In call with Trump, Putin urges ‘restraint’ on North Korea
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In call with Trump, Putin urges ‘restraint’ on North Korea

In first conversation since US missile attack on army base in Syria, Russian leader and US president agree to work together to end civil war

This combination of pictures created on December 30, 2016 shows a file photo taken on December 28, 2016 of then-US President-elect Donald Trump, left, in Palm Beach, Florida and a file photo taken on December 23, 2016 of Russian President Vladimir Putin speaking in Moscow. (AFP Photo/Don Emmert, Natalia Kolesnikova)
This combination of pictures created on December 30, 2016 shows a file photo taken on December 28, 2016 of then-US President-elect Donald Trump, left, in Palm Beach, Florida and a file photo taken on December 23, 2016 of Russian President Vladimir Putin speaking in Moscow. (AFP Photo/Don Emmert, Natalia Kolesnikova)

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday called for “restraint” and a decrease in the tensions between the US and North Korea, agreeing to work jointly on a diplomatic solution to settle the crisis, the Russian government-funded RT TV network reported.

The call came during the first telephone conversation between the Russian leader and US President Donald Trump since the US cruise missile strike against the Syrian government’s Al Shayrat air force base on April 6.

That attack outraged Russia, one of the Syrian government’s strongest backers.

In late April, Trump warned that his military could be headed for a “major” confrontation with North Korea, as the rogue state continues to test-fire a variety of ballistic missiles, despite United Nations prohibitions, as part of its push to develop a long-range ballistic missile capable of hitting US shores.

In a conversation described by Moscow as “businesslike and constructive, the two leaders also discussed the Syria crisis and agreed to work together to find solutions.

Illustrative: A woman walks past a television screen showing file footage of a North Korean missile launch, at a railway station in Seoul on April 5, 2017. (AFP Photo/Jung Yeon-Je)
Illustrative: A woman walks past a television screen showing file footage of a North Korean missile launch, at a railway station in Seoul on April 5, 2017. (AFP Photo/Jung Yeon-Je)

The White House said the leaders also agreed to try to set up their first in-person meeting in July, on the sidelines of an international summit in Germany.

The Kremlin said Trump and Putin agreed to bolster diplomatic efforts to resolve the Syrian civil war, which has left hundreds of thousands dead and millions more displaced. The White House announced it would send a top State Department official to Russian-led talks on Syria that begin Wednesday in Kazakhstan.

“President Trump and President Putin agreed that the suffering in Syria has gone on for far too long and that all parties must do all they can to end the violence,” the White House said. “The conversation was a very good one, and included the discussion of safe, or de-escalation, zones to achieve lasting peace for humanitarian and many other reasons.”

Despite having previously warned against US 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. Russia said the US strikes violated international law.

Some of Trump’s top advisers, including Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley, leveled blistering criticism at Russia and Putin following the chemical weapons attack.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson addresses the Security Council at United Nations headquarters, Friday, April 28, 2017. (AP/Richard Drew)
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson addresses the Security Council at United Nations headquarters, Friday, April 28, 2017. (AP/Richard Drew)

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 US 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.

Hillary Clinton, Trump’s vanquished Democratic opponent, said during a speaking appearance Tuesday that she was “on the way to winning” the election until “intervening events” in the campaign’s final days, including WikiLeaks’ release of hacked emails from one of her top advisers. US intelligence agencies have assessed that Russia was behind the hacking.

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.”

Tuesday’s call marked the third time Trump and Putin are known to have talked since the US president took office in January.

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