Trump, Putin discuss Ukraine, economic ties in phone call

President Donald Trump speaks with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Oval Office on Saturday. The call was one of five with foreign leaders scheduled for Saturday. Photo by Pete Marovich/UPI

Jan. 28 (UPI) — U.S. President Donald Trump spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday, discussing their nations’ economic ties and several international hotspots in their first conversation since Trump took office.

According to a Kremlin readout of the phone call, Trump and Putin discussed mutual business ties between the two nations. They also discussed global threats such as North Korea, Russia’s presence in Ukraine and the ongoing Syrian civil war. While specifics about the conversation were not released, the Kremlin said the focus of the conversation was positive.

“Both sides demonstrated a disposition towards active joint work for the stabilization and development of Russian-American collaboration on a constructive, equal and mutually beneficial basis,” the Kremlin said.

Speaking about Syria, the Kremlin said both leaders agreed they needed to “unify efforts” to fight the Islamic State and other terrorist groups that have emerged in the chaos of the years-long conflict between Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and myriad rebel groups opposed to his rule.

Russia has long backed Assad’s government both financially and materially, a source of frustration for the United States and its allies, who see Assad’s departure as a precondition for bringing peace and stability back to the country.

The conversation was a closely watched one in the wake of allegations by the U.S. intelligence community that Russia interfered in the election to help Trump win. Trump initially refused to acknowledge Russian hacking, saying it was a plot to undermine the legitimacy of his election, however just prior to taking office he acknowledged Russia probably was behind the hacking of Democratic groups and Hillary Clinton‘s campaign.

Trump was surrounded by his top advisers during the call, including Vice President Mike Pence, chief of staff Reince Priebus, chief strategist Steve Bannon, Defense Secretary James Mattis and Press Secretary Sean Spicer.

In addition to Putin, Trump also spoke with four other world leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

The call with Merkel came a day after Trump signed an executive order temporarily halting all refugees from entering the United States from several Muslim countries and subjecting potential future Muslim refugees to “intense scrutiny.” While Trump moved to crack down on refugees, Merkel’s government continued this week to urge Germans to welcome them.

Germany has accepted more than 1 million refugees, mostly from Syria and Iraq, since 2015, a fact Trump criticized during the campaign as a threat to German citizens.

In his conversation with Abe, Trump reaffirmed his desire to negotiate a bilateral free trade agreement after officially scrapping the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade deal negotiated by the Obama administration that included the United States, Japan and 10 other Pacific Rim nations. Abe, who was an enthusiastic supporter of the TPP, signaled he would be willing to deal directly with the United States to put a trade deal in place.

Trump also offered the United States’ “ironclad commitment” to Japan’s security, the White House said in a statement. During the campaign, Trump suggested Japan and other Asian nations that rely on the United States for security should be paying more for the help, or risk the U.S. military leaving the region.

Abe also committed to visiting Washington on Feb. 10.

Trump was also scheduled to speak with French President Francois Hollande and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on Saturday. He hosted British Prime Minister Theresa May in Washington on Friday, making her the first world leader to visit the White House since Trump took office.

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