Vladimir Putin thanks Slovenia for offer to host meeting with Donald Trump

Russian President Vladimir Putin has thanked Slovenia for offering to host his first meeting with US President Donald Trump, but added that the prospect hinges on Washington.

The Russian leader hailed Slovenia, where Mr Trump's wife Melania was born and grew up, as an "excellent" venue for possible talks with the US president.

"It depends not only on us, but we are naturally ready for it," he said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, shakes hands with Slovenian President Borut Pahor. Photo: AP/Alexander Zemlianichenko

Speaking after holding talks at the Kremlin with his Slovenian counterpart Borut Pahort, Mr Putin said Russia welcomes Mr Trump's statements about his intentions to restore strained Russia-US ties.

"We always welcomed that and we hope that relations will be restored in full in all areas," Mr Putin said.

"It relates to trade and economic ties, security issues and various regions of the world, which are suffering from numerous conflicts.

"By pooling our efforts, we naturally would be able to significantly contribute to solving those issues, including the fight against international terrorism."

In recent years, Russia-US relations have plunged to post-Cold War lows over the Ukrainian crisis, the war in Syria and the allegations of Russian hacking of the Democrats in the US presidential election.

In 2001, Slovenia hosted Mr Putin's first meeting with former US president George W Bush that led to a short-lived thaw in relations between Moscow and Washington.

Slovenian President Borut Pahor

A similarly short warm spell early during Barack Obama's presidency gave way to new tensions.

As part of Mr Obama's early effort to "reset" ties with Moscow, the two nations in 2010 signed a pivotal arms control pact that set new lower caps on the number of warheads each country can deploy.

Mr Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said the prospects of extending the New START Treaty that is set to expire in 2021 will "depend on the position of our American partners" and require negotiations.

He would not say whether the Kremlin favours extending the pact that limited Russian and US nuclear arsenals to no more than 1,550 deployed nuclear warheads each.

Speaking in a conference call with reporters, Mr Peskov pointed to a "certain break in dialogue on strategic security issues" during the Obama administration, and said Moscow and Washington now need "an update of information and positions".

Mr Peskov denied a report by the Washington Post claiming that Michael Flynn, the retired general who is now Mr Trump's national security adviser, had discussed a possible review of anti-Russian sanctions with the Russian ambassador to Washington in December.

Mr Peskov said ambassador Sergei Kislyak did talk to Mr Flynn but the rest of the report was wrong.

While suggesting possible co-operation with Moscow to fight Islamic State (IS) in Syria, as a candidate Mr Trump was critical of the New START Treaty and talked about a need to strengthen US nuclear arsenals.

In December, Mr Trump declared on Twitter that the US should "greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability" until the rest of the world "comes to its senses" regarding nuclear weapons.

Mr Putin has also said strengthening Russia's nuclear capabilities should be among the nation's priorities.

The platform of Mr Trump's Republican Party had promised to "abandon arms control treaties that benefit our adversaries without improving our national security" and called for the development of "a multi-layered missile defence system".

Mr Kislyak told Russian media in Washington that he sees little chance for a compromise on missile defence, as Moscow believes the US wants to develop the shield against Russia despite assurances that it is directed against other threats.

"I don't exclude that at a certain stage we may have a mutual interest to talk about those issues, but as of now I'm not seeing any basis for reaching agreement," he said, according to the Interfax news agency.

He voiced hope, however, that joint efforts to fight IS could help break the ice in Russia-US ties.

"If we have serious co-operation, it could help to start rebuilding trust," Mr Kislyak said in televised remarks.

Mr Kislyak added that Russian and US diplomats will start soon to try to prepare a Putin-Trump meeting.

The ambassador has also sought to downplay differences on Iran, saying that "we disagree more on accents related to the nuclear agreement rather than substance".

Mr Trump has accused the Obama administration of being weak on Iran and responded to Iran's recent missile test with a package of sanctions.

The penalties, however, referred solely to the missile programme and did not directly undercut a landmark 2015 deal between Iran and six world powers that curtailed Tehran's nuclear programme in exchange for rolling back international sanctions.

- AP


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