Trump Calls Putin, Says Two Plan to Meet in 'Not-Too-Distant Future' on Arms Race

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks at the Kremlin in Moscow on March 20, 2018. (Mikhail Klimentyev, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

WASHINGTON — The Kremlin said today that President Trump called President Vladimir Putin for a “constructive and businesslike” conversation today, while Trump told reporters that the two plan to meet soon to talk about the “out-of-control” arms race.

The White House said in a readout of the call that the two leaders “discussed the state of bilateral relations and resolved to continue dialogue about mutual national security priorities and challenges.”

“President Trump congratulated President Putin on his March 18 re-election, and emphasized the importance of denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula,” the statement continued. “The two leaders confirmed the need for the United States and Russia to continue our shared efforts on strategic stability.”

Putin won a fourth six-year term with what Russian officials said was 77 percent of the vote. Opposition leader Alexey Navalny, who was banned from running against Putin, said observers sent out to the polls put the turnout at 10 points lower than the official number of 67.5 percent. He noted that in Chechnya turnout was reported at 37 percent where there were election observers and 99 percent where there weren’t. Ballot-box stuffing was also recorded on polling station cameras.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters today, “We don’t get to dictate how other countries operate. What we do know is that Putin has been elected in their country, and that’s not something that we can dictate to them… We can only focus on the freeness and fairness of our elections.”

The Kremlin readout of the call with Trump said the two “spoke in favor of developing practical cooperation in various areas, including efforts to ensure strategic stability and combat international terrorism, with particular emphasis on the importance of coordinated efforts to curb an arms race.”

“The exchange on economic cooperation revealed an interest in bolstering it. Energy was discussed separately. The problem of Syria was discussed, as was the internal crisis in Ukraine. There was recognition on both sides of the need to make rapid strides toward achieving settlements,” the Kremlin statement continued. “Satisfaction was expressed with the limited reduction of tensions around the Korean Peninsula. The expediency of continuing consistent efforts to resolve the situation by peaceful, diplomatic means was underscored.”

The Russians also indicated that the recent firing of Rex Tillerson was discussed. “It was agreed to develop further bilateral contacts in light of the changes in leadership at the US Department of State. The possibility of organizing a top-level meeting received special attention.”

The call had “a focus on overcoming the accumulated problems in Russian-American relations,” the Kremlin said.

Meeting today with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, Trump told reporters that he congratulated Putin “on the victory, his electoral victory.”

“The call had to do also with the fact that we will probably get together in the not-too-distant future, so that we can discuss arms, we can discuss the arms race. As you know, he made a statement that being in an arms race is not a great thing, and it was right after the election, one of the first statements he made, and we are spending $700 billion there are this year, our military, and a lot of it is that we are going to remain stronger than any other nation in the world by far,” he said.

“We had a very good call, and I suspect that we’ll probably be meeting in the not-too-distant future to discuss the arms race, which is getting out of control, but we will never allow anybody to have anything even close to what we have, and also to discuss Ukraine and Syria and North Korea and various other things. So I think probably we’ll be seeing President Putin in the not-too-distant future.”

Neither statement mentioned the attack on a former spy with a lethal Russian nerve agent in Britain. Investigators believe the Novichok that left Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia critically ill may have been put in their car vents. A police officer was also hospitalized after contact with the nerve agent.

“We actually have evidence within the last 10 years that Russia has not only been investigating the delivery of nerve agents for the purposes of assassination, but has also been creating and stockpiling Novichok,” Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson told BBC.

British authorities are also investigating the March 12 death of Putin opponent and Russian businessman Nikolai Glushkov at his London home.