Trump open to Moscow visit if Putin formally invites him

By JILL COLVIN, Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump is open to visiting Moscow if formally invited by Russian President Vladimir Putin, the White House said Friday.

Putin had said earlier Friday during a meeting in Johannesburg, South Africa, that he was ready to invite Trump and also ready to visit Washington if conditions are right.

That's fine with Trump, said Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders. The U.S. president "looks forward to having President Putin to Washington after the first of the year, and he is open to visiting Moscow upon receiving a formal invitation," she said.

Trump had initially invited Putin to Washington this fall for a follow-up meeting to their controversial Helsinki summit. But National Security Adviser John Bolton said this week that Trump now believes the follow-up sit-down should take place "after the Russia witch hunt is over" and "after the first of the year."

He was referring to the federal investigation into Russia's interference in the 2016 election and whether Trump's campaign assisted or was aware of the efforts. Trump has repeatedly denounced the investigation as a "witch hunt" intended to delegitimize his presidency.

Putin said Friday, "I understand very well what President Trump said: He has the wish to conduct further meetings. I am ready for this."

"We are ready to invite President Trump to Moscow," Putin said, according to the state news agency RIA-Novosti. "By the way, he has such an invitation, I told him of this."

He did not clarify if that was a face-to-face invitation to be followed by a formal one.

"I am prepared to go to Washington, but, I repeat, if the appropriate conditions for work are created," the Russian leader said

Trump has been widely criticized for failing to strongly denounce Russia's election interference and appearing to accept Putin's denials during their joint press conference in Helsinki.

Trump has since tried to walk back at least some of his comments.

Associated Press writer James Heintz in Moscow contributed to this report.

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