Moscow 'open' to Putin visiting Trump in Washington, Russian envoy says

'We are ready for discussions on that point'

By NATHAN HODGE, CNN

MOSCOW (CNN) - The Russian ambassador to the United States said on Friday that Moscow was "open" to a follow-up summit between Russian President Vladimir Putin and President Donald Trump in Washington, four days after the leaders' private one-on-one meeting in Helsinki.

Asked at the Valdai Discussion Club in Moscow to comment on controversial plans by the White House to invite Putin to the US this fall, Anatoly Antonov said: "The Russian side has always been open to possible proposals. We are ready for discussions on that point."

Plans to welcome Putin were announced by White House press secretary Sarah Sanders in a statement on Thursday, hours after Trump tweeted that he was "looking forward" to meeting again with Putin to "begin implementing" issues they discussed during their summit earlier this week.

Trump has been widely criticized for his performance in Helsinki, Finland, at which he was deeply deferential to the Russian leader and lashed out at his own country.

"President Trump asked (national security adviser John Bolton) to invite President Putin to Washington in the fall and those discussions are already underway," Sanders tweeted Thursday.

The invitation was extended to Putin by Bolton earlier on Thursday, according to a National Security Council spokesman.

Antonov said that it was "up to the Kremlin to decide" the timing and number of such meetings.

"The task is not to necessarily multiply the number of summits, the task is to prepare them carefully and substantially," he said.

"At this stage, when we see that our leaders don't meet that often, we are of course in favor of continuing this dialogue so that it is ongoing, that our leaders meet not just occasionally, but regularly, so they would know and understand each other better."

The visit will be controversial because it will bring a US adversary accused of masterminding a scheme to help put Trump into power to the United States at about the same time as midterm elections that US spy agencies say are already falling victim to Moscow's meddling.

News of the invitation -- which caught many, including Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, off guard -- was welcomed by German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Asked about it during a news conference in Berlin on Friday, Merkel said she was "pleased whenever there is a meeting" between the US and Russia.

"I believe that it has to become normal for a US President and Russian [President] to meet," adding that it is always good "especially when these two countries talk" because they control 90% of the world's nuclear arsenal.

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