President Donald Trump congratulated Russian President Vladimir Putin on his re-election during a phone call on March 20, 2018, and the two leaders agreed to hold talks soon.
“We will probably get together in the not-too-distant future, so we can discuss arms, we can discuss arms race.” Trump told reporters before an oval office meeting with Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Trump said the arms race is “getting out of control,” but the U.S. “will not allow anybody to have anything even close to what we have.” Other issues that will be discussed during the bilateral meeting will be Ukraine, Syria, and North Korea, Trump added.
During the call, Trump emphasized denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula, discussed the state of U.S.-Russia relations and resolved to continue dialogue about “mutual national security priorities and challenges,” according to the White House.
An official statement by the Kremlin on March 20, 2018, said Trump and Putin discussed the importance of working together on international terrorism, limiting nuclear arms, and economic cooperation.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said neither the Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential race nor the recent poisoning of a former Russian spy in the United Kingdom came up during the phone call.
Sanders said there are currently no specific details regarding the time and location of the bilateral meeting.
Shortly after Trump’s Oval Office remarks, Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona criticized the president on Twitter.
An American president does not lead the Free World by congratulating dictators on winning sham elections. And by doing so with Vladimir Putin, President Trump insulted every Russian citizen who was denied the right to vote in a free and fair election. https://t.co/lcQTBi7CA1
— John McCain (@SenJohnMcCain) March 20, 2018
“An American president does not lead the Free World by congratulating dictators on winning sham elections,” tweeted McCain. “And by doing so with Vladimir Putin, President Trump insulted every Russian citizen who was denied the right to vote in a free and fair election.”
Sanders defended Trump saying he “joined other countries in these calls, both Germany and France have reached out, as well as President Obama in 2012.” She said President Trump maintained it is important to have dialogue with Russia, and at the same time “we will continue to be tough on Russia.”
When pressed by reporters, Sanders declined to comment on whether the White House believes the Russian election was free and fair.
“We don’t get to dictate how other countries operate.” Sanders replied. “What we do know is Putin has been elected in their country, and that’s not something we can dictate to them, how they operate, we can only focus on the freeness and fairness of our elections, something we 100 percent fully support.”
Putin won his fourth term in the March 18 presidential election with 77 percent of the vote. According to Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), “restrictions on the fundamental freedoms, as well as on candidate registration, have limited the space for political engagement and resulted in a lack of genuine competition.”