Russian Ambassador to the United States Anatoly Antonov said on Friday that Moscow is ready to discuss the possibility of President Vladimir Putin visiting the White House, but added it was important to “deal with the results” of the meeting between Putin and U.S. President Donald Trump in Helsinki before arranging another talk.
“Russia was always open to such proposals. We are ready for discussions on this subject,” Antonov said of Trump’s invitation for Putin to visit Washington in the fall.
Antonov told Russia’s Interfax that Putin made “concrete proposals” to Trump for resolving the conflict in Ukraine during their Helsinki meeting.
Putin reportedly told a closed-door meeting of Russian diplomats on Thursday that he suggested an internationally-supervised referendum to decide the fate of the contested areas of Ukraine. The White House soon stated that it was “not considering supporting” any such referendum and insisted Russia stick to the Minsk agreements for ending the Ukraine conflict. The Minsk agreements provide no option for a referendum.
Antonov further proposed a meeting between Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis to discuss matters of mutual concern, which would presumably include Ukraine, Syria, and North Korea.
The Russian ambassador also addressed controversy in the United States over Trump’s meeting with Putin, as related by Newsweek:
It seems that some of them (U.S. politicians and journalists) simply did not listen to what their president said as the president defended national interests. Even now, speaking to you, I am afraid to say anything positive about the American president, because when American journalists or politicians read my interview, they will say that Russia is again interfering in internal affairs and providing assistance to Donald Trump, that’s all confirmed. See what happens?
Antonov said he was surprised by the “tough reaction to the talks” his colleagues spotted in U.S. media and relayed to him with text messages.
“We expected Washington’s reaction to the summit to be mixed. However, I did not expect such a strong reluctance to accept anything the two presidents had discussed,” he said.
Antonov’s phone is probably still quivering with incoming text messages from his colleagues about Washington’s spirited reaction to the proposed Putin White House visit.
“Okaaaay … that’s going to be special,” Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats said when notified of the invitation by a reporter while he was onstage at the Aspen Security Forum on Thursday.
White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders indicated on Thursday that “discussions are already underway” with the Kremlin to facilitate a Putin visit to the White House. Another White House official said off the record on Friday that Trump’s next meeting with Putin, wherever it might be held, will cover issues including “Russian meddling, nuclear proliferation, North Korea, Iran, and Syria.”