Trump and Putin to Talk Amid Tension Over Syria

MESOP NEWS “DONALD’S DECLARED MOTTO”: “Things will work out fine between the U.S.A. and Russia,” Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter on April 13. “At the right time everyone will come to their senses & there will be lasting peace!”

By Peter Baker – New York Times – 3 May – WASHINGTON — President Trump plans to talk with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia by telephone on Tuesday in their first conversation since the rupture in relations over the American cruise missile strike on Syria in retaliation for a chemical weapons attack on civilians.

The Trump administration accused Russia of complicity or incompetence, since it had troops stationed at the same Syrian government base that was reportedly used to launch the nerve agent attack. The Kremlin denied that the government of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria was responsible for the attack and accused the United States of violating international law.

In the wake of the rift, Mr. Trump said Russian-American relations “may be at an all-time low.” But even as senior members of his team excoriated Moscow for its conduct, the president tempered his language, evidently out of hope of still finding a way to build a renewed friendship between the former Cold War adversaries. Mr. Trump made sure not to criticize Mr. Putin personally and later expressed optimism that they would get past the dispute.

“Things will work out fine between the U.S.A. and Russia,” Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter on April 13. “At the right time everyone will come to their senses & there will be lasting peace!”

Mr. Trump’s effort to ease tensions came in tandem with a visit to Russia by Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, who met with Mr. Putin in the southern resort city of Sochi. But the issues dividing Russia and the West remain unresolved, and the two sides appear no closer to agreement over the Syrian civil war, the Russian intervention in Ukraine or other disputes.

Further complicating the relationship are the continuing investigations into Russian meddling in last year’s presidential elections in the United States, which American intelligence agencies have said was ordered by Mr. Putin to help tilt the vote to Mr. Trump. European leaders have pointed to signs of Russian interference in their own elections lately.

At a news conference with Ms. Merkel on Tuesday, Mr. Putin dismissed allegations that Russia was seeking to influence the political landscape in the West by supporting far-right parties and undercutting mainstream factions. “We never interfere in the political life and the political processes of other countries, and we don’t want anybody interfering in our political life and foreign policy processes,” Mr. Putin said.

Mr. Putin has stuck by Mr. Assad even as much of the rest of the world has called for him to step down after six years of grinding civil war that has left more than 400,000 dead. Russia vetoed a United Nations Security Council resolution condemning the chemical weapons attack.

Asked about Syria at the news conference with the German chancellor, Mr. Putin said that the two sides had discussed settling the conflict there. He emphasized that cooperation with Washington was critical.

“Certainly, without the participation of such a party as the United States, it is also impossible to solve these problems effectively,” Mr. Putin said. “So we are and will continue to be in contact with our American partners, and I hope that we will attain understanding there regarding joint steps in this very important and sensitive area of international relations today.”

When he was asked whether he had the influence to sway Mr. Assad, Mr. Putin said that Russia, in tandem with Turkey and Iran, was trying to “create the conditions for political cooperation from all sides.”

A cease-fire is the main priority, Mr. Putin said. It will be the focus of talks involving various parties to the conflict that are to take place on Wednesday and the next day in Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan. The United States thus far has not had any important role in those talks, which Russia, Iran and Turkey set up outside the previous system of negotiations in Geneva.

Mr. Trump and Mr. Putin have spoken by telephone twice since the American inauguration in January, the first time about a week after the president was sworn in and the second in early April, when Mr. Trump called to express condolences over a terrorist attack in St. Petersburg, Russia. The two men may have their first meeting in person as presidents on the sidelines of a Group of 20 summit meeting in Germany in July.