US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin shake hands as they hold a joint news conference after their meeting in Helsinki, Finland July 16, 2018 - REUTERS
WASHINGTON (Reuters): President Donald Trump has invited Russian President Vladimir Putin to Washington this autumn, the White House said on Thursday, a daring rebuttal to the torrent of criticism in the United States over Trump’s failure to publicly confront Putin at their first summit for Moscow’s meddling in the 2016 election.
Four days after Trump stunned the world by siding with Putin in Helsinki over his intelligence agencies, the president asked national security adviser John Bolton to issue the invitation to the Russian leader, said White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders.
What happened at Monday’s one-on-one between Trump and Putin with only interpreters present remained a mystery, even to top officials and US lawmakers who said they had not been briefed.
Trump’s director of national intelligence, Dan Coats, said in response to a question at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado: “Well, you’re right, I don’t know what happened at that meeting.” The coveted invitation was sure to be seen as a victory by Putin, whose last official visit to the United States was in July 2007, when he spent two days at the Bush family compound.
Both Trump and Putin earlier on Thursday praised their first meeting as a success and blamed forces in the United States for trying to belittle its achievements, Trump citing discussions on counterterrorism, Israel’s security, nuclear proliferation, cyber attacks, trade, Ukraine, Middle East peace and North Korea. In one Twitter post, Trump blamed the media. “The Summit with Russia was a great success, except with the real enemy of the people, the Fake News Media.”
In Moscow, Putin said the summit “was successful overall and led to some useful agreements” without elaborating on the agreements. Top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer criticised the invitation. “Until we know what happened at that two hour meeting in Helsinki, the president should have no more one-on-one interactions with Putin. In the United States, in Russia, or anywhere else,” he said in a statement. Coats, who on Monday roundly defended the intelligence agencies’ findings of Russian meddling, also advised against a one-on-one meeting with Putin, saying he “would look for a different way of doing it.”
An official visit by a Russian president to the United States is a rare event: the last time was in June 2010 with Dmitri Medvedev, now Russian prime minister.
A senior White House official said Bolton extended the official invitation to Putin on Thursday via his Russian counterpart. No date has been set and it was unclear whether it would be timed for the UN General Assembly in late September.
The week was one of the toughest for Trump since he took office 18 months ago as aides struggled with damage control and convincing Americans that the president did not favour Russian interests over his own country’s. Forty-two percent of registered voters said they approved of Trump’s overall job performance, according to a Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll taken after the summit.