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The White House said Friday that President Donald Trump looks forward to hosting Russian President Vladimir Putin in Washington next year, and said he would also consider traveling to Moscow to meet with Putin.
"President Trump 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," press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement Friday morning.
The announcement from the White House came in response to Putin saying earlier in the day that telephone calls were an insufficient means of diplomacy and that he was prepared to go to Washington and meet with Trump, but only if "the right conditions" exist.
"Regarding our meetings, I understand very well what President Trump said. He has a desire to have further meetings, to hold further meetings. I am ready for that," Putin told reporters at a summit of the BRICS group of nations — Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. But he cautioned, "we need for the appropriate conditions to exist, to be created, including in our countries."
Putin added that Russia was "ready to invite President Trump to Moscow. By all means. By the way, he has such an invitation, I told him about that." Likewise, Putin said: "I am ready to go to Washington. I repeat once again, if the right conditions for work are created."
Friday's statements marked the latest step in efforts by the White House and the Kremlin to continue the talks the two leaders held at a summit in Helsinki earlier this month.
Trump came under withering criticism from across the political spectrum for his performance during the summit, at which the president refused to publicly hold Russia accountable for its destabilizing activities around the world, including the U.S. election attacks in 2016. Instead, Trump signaled that he believed Putin's denial that Russia committed the attacks over the unanimous conclusion of U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia did, in fact, commit them.
Upon the president's return to the States, White House staff spent nearly a week attempting to walk back Trump's statements and reframe his positions, with only limited success.
Moreover, any serious attempts to repair the damage to the president from the summit ended abruptly on July 19, when Sanders wrote in a tweet that Trump had instructed his national security advisor, John Bolton, to invite Putin to visit him in Washington in the fall.
News of the invitation drew swift condemnation from Republicans on Capitol Hill, who take a much tougher line on Russia than the president does. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., for instance, told reporters that if Putin visits Washington, he "will not be welcome" in the Capitol.
The political risks that would arise from an official visit of the alleged mastermind of the 2016 attack on America's election system, just weeks ahead of November's midterm elections, were not lost on Republicans, either.
As long as special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia remains open, Republicans are reluctant to draw any further attention to the president's unusually warm relationship with Putin.
On Wednesday, Bolton cited the special counsel's investigation as the chief hindrance to a visit this fall from Putin to the United States, and used Trump preferred term for the probe, "witch hunt," to announce that Putin would not visit the United States until the investigation was over.
"The President believes that the next bilateral meeting with President Putin should take place after the Russia witch hunt is over, so we've agreed that it will be after the first of the year," Bolton told reporters.
There are no indications, however, that the Mueller probe will be concluded by the end of the year.