MOSCOW: Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed to hold a summit with Donald Trump in a third country at talks on Wednesday with the US leader’s hawkish national security adviser, voicing hope for an easing of tensions between the two nations.

Adviser John Bolton was received in Moscow with top honours: a lunch hosted by Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov followed by a markedly courteous meeting with Putin at the Kremlin.

US-Russian relations have been strained by disagreement over the Syrian conflict, Russia’s annexation of Crimea, its involvement in eastern Ukraine and allegations of political meddling.

The Kremlin’s top foreign policy aide said Putin and Bolton agreed that the two presidents would meet at a place and time to be announced on Thursday.

“Your visit to Moscow gives us hope that we can at least take the first step to reviving full-blown ties between our states,” Putin told Bolton at the Kremlin after the two smiled and shook hands for the cameras.

“We never sought confrontation,” Putin said, adding he regretted that the Russia-US ties were not “on top form”.

Bolton, known for his hawkish reputation and tough stance on Moscow, said it was important to keep talking and complimented Putin on his handling of the football World Cup, currently taking place in Russia.

“A lot of people have said or implied over time that a meeting between President Trump and President Putin would somehow prove some nexus between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin, which is complete nonsense,” Bolton told a news conference later. “What must guide his [Trump’s] conduct of American foreign policy is the pursuit of American national interests ... He will do this regardless of political criticism at home.”

Putin’s foreign policy aide Yury Ushakov said the two presidents would focus on relations between their two countries, Syria and nuclear arms control and could adopt a joint statement to help improve ties as well as global security.

“I think [Trump] is going to raise the full range of issues between the two countries,” Bolton said. He added there were areas for cooperation despite the major points of disagreement.

Since coming to power last year, Trump has sought to improve relations with Putin amid tensions between Moscow and the West. Trump said this month that Russia should be re-admitted to the G7 group of industrialised democracies, from which it was suspended for its annexation of Crimea in 2014.

Kremlin-connected analyst Fyodor Lukyanov said the summit would be a milestone of sorts given the dismal state of ties but stressed that any breakthroughs would be unlikely.

“The question is about finding some new approaches because the old ones no longer work,” he said.

“A Trump-Putin meeting would temporarily ease US-Russia tensions, but new US sanctions are still likely later this year,” said the Eurasia Group think tank.

Published in Dawn, June 28th, 2018

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