Trump, Putin Agree to Cooperate on Fighting Terrorism

By Mary Alice Salinas January 28, 2017

U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin had lengthy talks by telephone Saturday, and spokesmen in both capitals said they agreed to cooperate on efforts to defeat the Islamic State group and to work together for peace in Syria and throughout the world.

The two presidents were speaking directly for the first time since Trump's inauguration on January 20. The White House said their hourlong conversation was "positive," and that it was "a significant start to improving the relationship" between Washington and Moscow, which has been badly strained in recent months.

"Both President Trump and President Putin are hopeful," White House officials said, "that after today's call the two sides can move quickly to tackle terrorism and important issues of mutual concern."

News bulletins from the Kremlin closely echoed the White House message.

Trump also spoke by telephone Saturday with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Francois Hollande and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

American officials said they hoped the Trump-Putin talks would help improve the relationship between the United States and Russia, which "is in need of repair." Neither side mentioned U.S.-imposed sanctions on Russia, or their possible relaxation – a notion that had figured prominently in analysts' speculation before the talks took place.


Trump had said Friday, during a joint news conference with British Prime Minister Theresa May, that it was "quite early" to consider easing sanctions against Moscow. A series of financial controls, an embargo on technology transfers and travel restrictions on Russian officials were imposed by former President Barack Obama following Russia's annexation of Crimea, which had been Ukrainian territory.

Trump spoke with Putin from a phone at his desk in the Oval Office, with an array of senior officials on hand – Vice President Mike Pence, national security adviser Michael Flynn, White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, chief strategist Steve Bannon and press secretary Sean Spicer.

Reporters were allowed to look into the Oval Office briefly from the outdoor colonnade that passes by the president's office. Michael Schmidt of The New York Times, who was in that group, said Flynn and Pence were seated in front of Trump's desk, Priebus and Spicer were standing off to the side and Bannon was pacing in the background.

A Kremlin statement issued before the White House summary of the two presidents' conversation said they "thoroughly discussed" international issues, "including the fight against terrorism, the situation in the Middle East, the Arab-Israeli conflict, the sphere of strategic stability and nonproliferation, the situation around the Iranian nuclear program and the Korean Peninsula."

Ukraine crisis

The talks also "touched upon ... the main aspects of the crisis in Ukraine," Moscow's statement said, adding: "It was agreed to establish a partnership on all these and other areas."

Before his talks with Putin, Trump spoke by phone with Germany's Merkel about NATO, the situation in the Middle East and North Africa, Russia and the conflict in eastern Ukraine. In a joint statement approved by both governments, Merkel and Trump underscored the importance of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) alliance and vowed to work more closely together to combat terrorism and militancy.

"The leaders recognized that NATO must be capable of confronting 21st-century threats and that our common defense requires appropriate investment in military capabilities to ensure all allies are contributing their fair share to our collective security," the statement by Merkel and Trump said.

The U.S. president accepted Merkel's invitation to attend a summit of G-20 industrialized countries during July in Hamburg, Germany, and said he looked forward to welcoming Merkel to Washington soon.

The statement made no mention of Trump's executive order limiting immigration or his moves to cancel free-trade deals.

Strained relations

Ties between Moscow and Washington have been strained in recent years by Russia's actions in Syria and Ukraine. U.S. intelligence agencies have also accused Russia of hacking into Democratic National Committee computers and have concluded that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election, in Trump's favor.

Shortly after his talks with Putin, Trump spoke with France's Hollande, who stressed to the new U.S. leader the importance of international pacts such as NATO and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.

In the past, Trump has dismissed NATO as "obsolete." He has at times dismissed as "a hoax" the specter of catastrophic global consequences arising from climate change and the steady climb in temperatures worldwide.

'Protectionist' approach

The White House said Trump and Hollande discussed military and defense cooperation, both bilaterally and through NATO, and the U.S. president expressed "his desire to strengthen U.S.-French cooperation on a range of issues, especially counterterrorism and security.

Hollande's office released a statement that was considerably cooler, saying the French president had warned Trump the U.S. would face economic and political consequences if the new administration adopted a "protectionist" attitude toward the rest of the world, whether on trade, immigration or security issues.

"In an unstable and uncertain world, turning inward would be a dead-end," Hollande told Trump in their first official telephone conversation, according to a statement from the Elysee Palace. The French president is said to have told Trump, who has expressed skepticism about international organizations, that France is committed to the United Nations, that the NATO military alliance is indispensable and that the European Union should be reinforced.

The French leader, who is about four months from the end of his term in office, said sanctions against Russia should be lifted only when the crisis in eastern Ukraine is resolved.

Trump's talks with Putin and the other world leaders followed his controversial executive order, issued the day before, to stop issuing visas to refugees from Syria and some other Muslim-majority countries, to cut back on other types of travel from those areas and even to closely screen permanent U.S. residents returning from abroad, if they were born in those Muslim-majority nations.

At a news conference Saturday in Paris, the German and French foreign ministers voiced concern about the new U.S. policy on immigration. Germany has taken in more than 1 million refugees and migrants, primarily from the Middle East, since 2015.

Conversation with Abe

Trump's first conversation with a world leader Saturday was with Japan's Abe. White House officials said the two men agreed that the U.S. and Japan were committed to seeking a new bilateral trade agreement to replace the broader Trans-Pacific Partnership that Trump abandoned earlier this week.

U.S. officials said Trump intended to pursue a deeper investment relationship with Japan, and that he promised an "ironclad commitment" to Japan's security.

Trump has said he prefers bilateral trade agreements to multinational pacts, and Abe, who is expected to visit the United States in about two weeks, said Thursday that he would consider negotiating a trade deal directly with Washington.

Trump wound up his lengthy day of telephone diplomacy Saturday with a 25-minute conversation with Australia's Turnbull.

"Both leaders emphasized the enduring strength and closeness of the U.S.-Australia relationship," the White House said, and agreed the ties between Canberra and Washington were "critical for peace, stability and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific region and globally."

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