US President Donald Trump has postponed his second summit with Vladimir Putin until after the federal probe into Russian election meddling is completed.
National security adviser John Bolton said Thursday morning the President was still committed to meeting his Russian counterpart in the US, but that the meeting will now take place in 2019.
“The President believes that the next bilateral meeting with President Putin should take place after the Russia witch hunt is over, so we’ve agreed that it will be after the first of the year,” Mr Bolton said in a statement.
Mr Trump weathered fierce criticism after his summit with Mr Putin in Helsinki last week after he appeared to give credence to the Russian leader’s assertion that Moscow did not interfere in the 2016 presidential election.
US intelligence agencies have concluded that Moscow interfered to sway the vote toward Trump, and a special counsel is investigating whether Trump’s campaign worked with the Russians.
Mr Trump rejected the criticism and said he “misspoke”, then issued an invitation to Mr Putin to visit Washington in September.
The US President has repeatedly called the probe into meddling in the 2016 election a “witch hunt,” a claim that he repeated in a tweet the same day that he met with Putin in Helsinki.
Many members of the US Congress objected to the proposed Putin visit to the US, saying the Russian leader would not be welcome on Capitol Hill.
The decision to postpone the visit came days after the White House rejected a Putin-backed effort to hold a referendum in eastern Ukraine on the region’s future.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Thursday morning, prior to the announcement, that the US would never recognise Russia’s annexation of Crimea and demanded that Ukraine’s territorial integrity be restored.
On Tuesday, Mr Putin’s foreign affairs adviser Yuri Ushakov cast doubt on the prospect of the Russian President accepting Mr Trump’s invitation to visit the White House.
Mr Ushakov told journalists in Moscow that no preparations were underway for a meeting in Washington and there were “other options that our leaders could consider,” such as the late November meeting of the Group of 20 in Argentina or another international event that both would attend.
Mr Trump met with Mr Putin on the sidelines of two international summits last year – first Germany and Vietnam – and reportedly invited the Russian President to the White House on each occasion, the AP quoted current and former administration officials as saying.