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Putin, Trump to hold summit as both sides seek better ties
[MOSCOW] Russia and the US reached agreement on a summit between Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump, a senior Kremlin official said, as both sides seek to reverse the downward spiral in relations.
Russia announced the deal after Mr Putin hosted US National Security Adviser John Bolton for talks in Moscow Wednesday, saying the exact date and place will be released Thursday. The summit "is of huge significance," Kremlin foreign-policy aide Yuri Ushakov told reporters after the meeting. "It will be the main international event of the summer."
The unusually warm discussions in the Kremlin Wednesday came amid the worst tensions between the two nuclear-armed rivals since the Cold War and relentless pressure on Mr Trump over the investigation into alleged Russian involvement in his 2016 presidential victory. Still, Trump has pushed for improving the relationship - inviting Mr Putin to the White House in a March phone call. The mere fact of the summit is a boost for Kremlin efforts to ease its international isolation, though officials had played down hopes of any breakthrough.
"Your visit to Moscow gives us hope that we can make at least the first steps toward restoring full-scale relations between our countries," Mr Putin told Mr Bolton at the opening of their meeting.
"It's great to be back in Moscow," Mr Bolton replied, adding that he hoped to discuss "how to improve Russia-US relations, find the areas where we can agree."
Talks lasted about two hours, covering summit planning and arms control as well as the conflicts in Syria and Ukraine and nuclear programs in Iran and North Korea. US sanctions weren't discussed and alleged election meddling came up only briefly, with Mr Putin reiterating his denials of any Russian role, Mr Ushakov said after the meeting.
Mr Putin conveyed several messages "exclusively for Trump" to Mr Bolton during the talks Wednesday, Mr Ushakov said, without elaborating. The summit is expected to last several hours and result in a joint statement by the leaders, he added.
US officials have said the meeting - the third between the two men - could take place at the end of Mr Trump's visit to Europe in mid-July. Finnish President Sauli Niinisto said his Nordic nation is ready to host the summit after Politico reported that the White House is eyeing Helsinki as the preferred option. Bolton discussed details of the planning at a working lunch with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov before he met Mr Putin.
Mr Bolton, who became Mr Trump's security adviser in March, is a long-time hawk and Kremlin critic. After Mr Trump met Mr Putin at the Group of 20 last summer, Mr Bolton wrote that "it should be a highly salutary lesson about the character of Russia's leadership to watch Putin lie to him," and that the talks offered a warning to "negotiate with today's Russia at your peril."
But in the Kremlin Wednesday, his message was different. "Even in earlier days when our countries had differences, our leaders and their advisers met and I think it was good for both countries, good for stability in the world and President Trump feels very strongly on that subject," he told Putin.
Mr Bolton also said he hoped to hear from the Russian leader on "how you handled the World Cup so successfully," drawing a broad smile from Mr Putin, who has made the soccer championship now underway in Russia a personal priority. The US will co-host the 2026 tournament.
Known for keeping visitors, including Western leaders, waiting for hours, Mr Putin Wednesday arrived with uncharacteristic promptness for the session with Mr Bolton. "I hope we will be able to speak today about what might make both sides restore full-scale relations based on equality and respect for each other," Mr Putin told him.
Reversing the downward spiral in ties that began with Russia's 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine and escalated with Moscow's intervention in Syria and the alleged election meddling is likely to be difficult.
To have something to show for the meeting, the two sides may manage to produce some agreement to try and prevent the collapse of decades-old arms control treaties. Both leaders have spoken publicly of the need to avoid a new nuclear arms race.
Mr Putin and Mr Trump should find it "relatively easy to agree" on steps to resolve accusations that Russia is violating a 1987 treaty that bans the deployment of intermediate-range missiles on land and extend another landmark treaty, New START, which expires in 2021, said Sergei Karaganov, a former Kremlin foreign policy adviser.
But "no major issues will be tackled because the level of trust is close to zero and because the Trump administration will immediately come under attack domestically if it strikes any deal," Mr Karaganov said. "No one needs any big agreements right now."