In first official phone call, Trump and Putin agree to work together

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Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

The White House said the first official phone call between President Donald Trump and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin “was a significant start to improving the relationship between the United States and Russia that is in need of repair.”

President Donald Trump in the Oval Office on Jan. 28. / AP

The hour-long call on Jan. 28 was their first official contact since Trump’s inauguration on Jan. 20.

In statements released by the Kremlin and the White House, there was only passing mention of the situation in Ukraine, where Russia’s annexation of the Crimea Peninsula prompted sweeping U.S. and European sanctions. In the days leading up to the call, there was speculation that Trump would move to lift those measures.

There was also no reference to the question of Russia’s alleged interference in the U.S. presidential election. U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that Russia interfered using computer hacking and propaganda, seeking to bolster Trump’s campaign.

“Both President Trump and President Putin are hopeful that after today’s call the two sides can move quickly to tackle terrorism and other important issues of mutual concern,” the White House said in a short statement released after the call.

The Kremlin, meanwhile, had a similarly upbeat assessment of the conversation, saying it showed there is “a mood for restoring and improving” cooperation between the United States and Russia.

It said that “both sides showed their readiness for active, joint work to stabilize and develop Russian-American cooperation.”

The Kremlin said Putin and Trump both favored the idea of coordinating Russian and U.S. actions in Syria aimed at defeating Islamic State (ISIS) militants and what the Kremlin called “other terrorist groups.”

It said Putin and Trump stressed the importance of “restoring mutually beneficial trade and economic ties” between their two countries.

However, Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Interfax that Trump and Putin did not discuss the issue of easing U.S. sanctions that have been imposed against Russia over its illegal annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region and Moscow’s support for pro-Russia separatists in eastern Ukraine.

The Kremlin statement said Putin and Trump did discuss the situation in Ukraine.

It said the two leaders agreed to establish “partner-like cooperation” on international issues, including “the crisis in Ukraine,” the situation in the Middle East, strategic stability, and the fight against terrorism.

It said they also discussed Iran’s nuclear program and developments on the Korean peninsula, and that the two agreed to work out a time and a place for a future meeting.

A photo released on Twitter by White House press secretary Sean Spicer showed Trump in the Oval office during the call with Vice President Michael Pence, U.S. National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, and Trump senior adviser Steve Bannon.

Spicer said Trump spoke by telephone with German Chancellor Angela Merkel for 45 minutes on Jan. 28 before his call with Putin.

Germany and France on Jan. 28 both expressed concern about reports from the United States suggesting the Trump administration was considering the possibility of lifting U.S. sanctions against Russia.

Berlin and Paris both insist that European Union sanctions against Russia should not be lifted without progress by Moscow on implementing the Minsk peace accords, which are aimed at bringing an end to the war in eastern Ukraine between Kyiv’s government forces and Russia-backed separatists.