Saturday 19 January 2019

Vladimir Putin urges closer ties as Washington's man in Moscow takes up post

Jon Huntsman with Vladimir Putin (AP)
Jon Huntsman with Vladimir Putin (AP)
The new US ambassador has taken up his post in Moscow

Vladimir Putin called for improved relations between the US and Russia as he welcomed Washington's new ambassador to Moscow.

Jon Huntsman presented his diplomatic credentials to Mr Putin at a ceremony in the Kremlin.

Mr Huntsman arrived in Moscow on Sunday to take over from John Tefft, who left after serving in Russia for three years, a period marred by a deep and rapid deterioration of ties, unseen since the end of the Cold War.

The US-Russia relationship has soured even further in recent months following a series of expulsions of diplomats and closures of diplomatic missions.

In his address to Mr Huntsman, Mr Putin offered Russia's condolences over the deadly shooting attack in Las Vegas and expressed hope for better ties with the US.

"The current level of the ties cannot satisfy us," Mr Putin said.

"We stand for constructive, predictable and mutually beneficial cooperation."

Mr Putin also said both the US and Russia should not meddle in each other's "domestic affairs".

Mr Huntsman, the former Utah governor who once called for Donald Trump to drop out of the presidential race, won easy confirmation as US ambassador last week.

He was the nation's top diplomat to Singapore under President George H.W. Bush and ambassador to China under President Barack Obama before returning to the US to run for president in 2012.

Mr Huntsman had an up-and-down relationship with Mr Trump during last year's campaign.

The former governor was slow to endorse any candidate for the Republican nomination, though he did back Mr Trump once he became the presumptive nominee.

But Mr Huntsman then called for Mr Trump to drop out of the presidential race after the release of a 2005 audio in which Mr Trump was captured on a microphone making lewd comments about women.

Although Mr Trump has called Russia's interference in the 2016 presidential election a hoax pushed by Democrats to sully his victory at the polls, Mr Huntsman said at his confirmation hearing last week that "there is no question, underline, no question" that Moscow interfered.

He also said he would not hesitate to remind Russian officials that they are accountable for their actions.

Mr Huntsman comes into office with a drastically reduced staff after the Russian foreign ministry ordered the US to cut its embassy and consulate staff in Russia by 755 people, or by two-thirds, heightening tensions between Washington and Moscow after the US Congress approved sanctions against Russia.

In response, the US suspended issuing non-immigrant visas in Moscow for a week in August and stopped issuing visas at its consulates elsewhere in Russia.


Press Association

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