Russian President Vladimir Putin thanked Slovenia on Friday for offering to host his first meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump, saying he is ready to meet his American counterpart, Donald Trump, however added that the prospect of such a meeting hinges on Washington. "It depends not only on us, but we are naturally ready for it," he said. The Russian leader hailed Slovenia, where Trump's wife Melania was born and grew up, as an "excellent" venue for possible talks with Trump.
“Ljubljana – and Slovenia in general – is of course a great place to hold such dialogue,” Putin said on Friday.
Speaking after holding talks at the Kremlin with his Slovenian counterpart Borut Pahort, Putin said Russia welcomes Trump's statements about his intentions to restore the strained Russia-U.S. ties.
"We always welcomed that and we hope that relations will be restored in full in all areas," Putin said. "It relates to trade and economic ties, security issues and various regions of the world, which are suffering from numerous conflicts. By pooling our efforts, we naturally would be able to significantly contribute to solving those issues, including the fight against international terrorism."
Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, shakes hands with Slovenian
President Borut Pahor
As AP notes, in 2001, Slovenia hosted Putin's first meeting with former U.S. President George W. Bush that led to a short-lived thaw in relations between Moscow and Washington. A similarly short warm spell early during Barack Obama's presidency gave way to new tensions. As part of Obama's early effort to "reset" ties with Moscow, the two nations in 2010 signed a pivotal arms control pact that set new lower caps on the number of warheads each country can deploy. On Thursday Reuters leaked an unconfirmed summary of the recent Trump-Putin phone call according to which Trump stated that he was against the New START agreement as implemented between Russia and the US.
Also on Friday, Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov said the prospects of extending the New START Treaty that is set to expire in 2021 will "depend on the position of our American partners" and require negotiations. He wouldn't say whether the Kremlin favors extending the pact that limited Russian and U.S. nuclear arsenals to no more than 1,550 deployed nuclear warheads each.
Speaking in a conference call with reporters, Peskov pointed to a "certain break in dialogue on strategic security issues" during the Obama administration, and said Moscow and Washington now need "an update of information and positions." While suggesting possible cooperation with Moscow to fight the Islamic State group in Syria, as a candidate Trump was critical of the New START and talked about a need to strengthen U.S. nuclear arsenals. In December, Trump declared on Twitter that the U.S. should "greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability" until the rest of the world "comes to its senses" regarding nuclear weapons. Putin also has said strengthening Russia's nuclear capabilities should be among the nation's priorities.
Separately, Peskov on Friday denied a report by the Washington Post claiming that Trump's National Security Advisor Michael Flynn had discussed a possible review of anti-Russian sanctions with the Russian ambassador to Washington in December. Peskov said Ambassador Sergei Kislyak did talk to Flynn, but the rest of the report was wrong.
The platform of Trump's Republican Party had promised to "abandon arms control treaties that benefit our adversaries without improving our national security" and called for the development of "a multi-layered missile defense system."
Kislyak told Russian media in Washington that he sees little chance for a compromise on missile defense, as Moscow believes the U.S. wants to develop the shield against Russia despite assurances that it's directed against other threats. "I don't exclude that at a certain stage we may have a mutual interest to talk about those issues, but as of now I'm not seeing any basis for reaching agreement," he said, according to the Interfax news agency.
He voiced hope, however, that joint efforts to fight the IS could help break the ice in Russia-U.S. ties. "If we have serious cooperation, it could help to start rebuilding trust," Kislyak said in televised remarks. Kislyak added that Russian and U.S. diplomats will start soon to try to prepare a Putin-Trump meeting.
The ambassador also has sought to downplay differences on Iran, saying that "we disagree more on accents related to the nuclear agreement rather than substance."