WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin will speak by phone Tuesday, their first known conversation since the U.S. missile strikes on a Syrian air base that sparked new tensions between Washington and Moscow.
The White House said the leaders would speak in the early afternoon, with Syria’s six-year conflict expected to be among the agenda items. Their discussion comes one day before a new round of Russian-led talks on the Syria crisis begins in Kazakhstan.
Despite having previously warned against U.S. intervention in Syria, Trump ordered the strikes against Syrian government targets in early April after accusing the regime of using chemical weapons in a deadly attack on civilians. The U.S. action was accompanied by a dramatic shift in the Trump administration’s rhetoric toward Russia, one of the Syrian government’s most important benefactors.
Trump, who spent months touting the prospect of warmer ties with Putin, declared after the strikes that the relationship between the U.S. and Russia “may be at an all-time low.” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley also sharply condemned Moscow’s role in supporting Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Yet Trump has continued to hold out the prospect of a stronger relationship with Russia, which was a cornerstone of his foreign policy platform as a presidential candidate. He took to Twitter days after the Syria strikes to say that “things will work out fine” between
the U.S. and Russia and “everyone will come to their senses.”
The shifts in the Trump administration’s posture came amid a steady swirl of controversy surrounding possible ties between the president’s associates and Russia during last year’s election. The FBI and congressional committees are investigating whether Trump’s campaign coordinated with Russia as it meddled in the election.
Putin, who met earlier Tuesday with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, denied that Moscow ever interferes in other countries’ elections. He said accusations of Russian meddling aimed at helping Trump in his race against Democrat Hillary Clinton were “simply rumors” being used as part of a political fight in Washington.
Trump has vigorously denied any nefarious ties to Moscow, calling the Russian investigations a “hoax.”
Trump and Putin have spoken twice since the U.S. president took office in January, including last month following an attack in St. Petersburg, Russia. The attack occurred days before the U.S. missile strike in Syria.