Putin calls for better US ties as he meets new envoy

MOSCOW (AFP): Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday called for “predictable and mutually beneficial” ties with the United States as he received diplomatic credentials from Washington´s new ambassador to Moscow.

The US Senate last week confirmed businessman, veteran diplomat and former presidential candidate Jon Huntsman as ambassador to Russia, filling a crucial post at a time when ties are at a dangerously low ebb.

“As far as bilateral ties with the United States are concerned, their current level cannot be satisfying,” Putin said at the Kremlin after he received diplomatic credentials from Huntsman.

“We are in favour of constructive, predictable and mutually beneficial cooperation. We are convinced it should be based on the meticulous adherence to the principles of equality, respect of national interests and non-interference in domestic affairs.”

Putin again expressed condolences to the American people following the Las Vegas shooting which killed at least 59 people and wounded more than 500.

‘Problems of reciprocity’

Putin´s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said earlier Tuesday that the Russian president wanted to restore ties with the United States but stressed he could not do it alone.

“So far there are certain problems when it comes to reciprocity,” Peskov told reporters. “But we hope that with the new ambassador at the helm at least the US diplomatic mission in Moscow will be able to contribute to the restoration of our relations.”

US President Donald Trump has pledged to improve ties between the two countries which slumped to their lowest point since the Cold War over the Ukraine crisis. But allegations of collusion between Russia and members of Trump´s election campaign team overshadowed those promises.

The 57-year-old Huntsman, who served as governor of Utah, has worked in numerous US administrations, notably as ambassador to China under Democrat president Barack Obama, before running unsuccessfully for president as a Republican in 2012.

Huntsman said during his confirmation hearing last week that there is “no question” Russia interfered in the US presidential race and that Moscow continues to “threaten stability” in Europe.

“I look forward to working to rebuild trust between our two countries and to strengthening the bilateral relationship based on cooperation on common interests,” the new US ambassador said after the Kremlin ceremony.

“I will seek out Russian people from all walks of life to share perspectives, to relay American values, and to deepen my growing appreciation for Russia´s rich and fascinating history and culture,” he added.

The US embassy in Moscow said Huntsman would return to Washington for “final consultations” before assuming his post in Russia next week. Huntsman will be performing one of the most difficult jobs on the diplomatic circuit. One of his predecessors, Michael McFaul, left the post under a cloud after just two years in Russia.

McFaul, who left in 2014, sparked Moscow´s fury with critical comments and meetings with Russian opposition leaders and was harassed by pro-Kremlin youth activists and TV channels.

His successor, career diplomat John Tefft was summoned out of retirement and served as US ambassador to Russia between 2014 and 2017.