Photo: Sputnik via Reuters/Mikhail Klimentyev

While lawmakers in Washington, along with certain members of the current US administration, continue to ratchet up criticism directed at Moscow, the president himself is apparently undeterred in his desire to build a relationship with his Russian counterpart.

That is the message the US ambassador to Russia delivered to media at an event in Vladivostok on Tuesday.

“My president has said repeatedly that he wants a better relationship with Russia. Repeatedly. And he has said quite clearly that he would like to engage personally with President Putin,” Jon Huntsman said, according to an official transcript. “You can call it a desire for detente or a desire for a healthier relationship.

“Every time I’ve met with President Trump or talked with him about this subject, many times now, he’s said the same thing,” Huntsman emphasized.

After a call between Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump in March, the Kremlin said that the Russian president had been specifically invited to the White House for a face-to-face meeting. The call was highly publicized after Trump defied his foreign-policy advisers’ direction not to congratulate Putin on his recent re-election.

In response to Huntsman’s comments, a spokesman for Putin expressed skepticism on Tuesday regarding a warming of ties.

“For the moment, the reality and the actual steps coming from Washington point to the opposite,” Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, was quoted by Bloomberg as telling reporters.

Trump has persisted in his call for a better relationship with Russia since his presidential campaign, echoing the desire of president Barack Obama to improve ties at the outset of his administration. While Obama quickly reversed course, Trump has stood firm, at times pushing back on efforts by the Washington foreign policy establishment to take a more confrontational approach with Russia.

This was on display last week when he reversed an apparent decision to slap additional sanctions on Russia. US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley didn’t get the memo and announced the sanctions on live television, prompting a back-and-forth between Haley and Trump’s top economic adviser. The Russian Foreign Ministry said later that the Trump administration had assured it there were no immediate plans for further sanctions.

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