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US, Russia agree to Putin-Trump summit

Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed to hold a summit with Donald Trump in a third country at talks on Wednesday with the US leader's hawkish national security advisor, voicing hope for an easing of tensions between the two nations.

Adviser John Bolton was received in Moscow with top honours: a lunch hosted by Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov followed by a markedly courteous meeting with Putin at the Kremlin.

US-Russian relations have been strained by disagreement over the Syrian conflict, Russia's annexation of Crimea, its involvement in eastern Ukraine and allegations of political meddling.

The Kremlin's top foreign policy aide said Putin and Bolton agreed that the two presidents would meet at a place and time to be announced on Thursday.

"Your visit to Moscow gives us hope that we can at least take the first step to reviving full-blown ties between our states," Putin told Bolton at the Kremlin after the two smiled and shook hands for the cameras.

"We never sought confrontation," Putin said, adding he regretted that the Russia-US ties were not "on top form".

Bolton, known for his hawkish reputation and tough stance on Moscow, said it was important to keep talking and complimented Putin on his handling of the football World Cup, currently taking place in Russia.

"Even in earlier days when our countries had differences our leaders and their advisors met and I think that was good for both countries, good for stability in the world and President Trump feels very strongly on that subject," he said.

- US-Russian disagreements -

Recently ties have been strained by a probe into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 US presidential election and suspected collusion with the Trump campaign, as well as by the poisoning of a former Russian spy in Britain.

"A lot of people have said or implied over time that a meeting between President Trump and President Putin would somehow prove some nexus between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin, which is complete nonsense," Bolton told a news conference later.

"What must guide his (Trump's) conduct of American foreign policy is the pursuit of American national interests... He will do this regardless of political criticism at home."

Putin's foreign policy aide Yury Ushakov said the two presidents would focus on relations between their two countries, Syria and nuclear arms control and could adopt a joint statement to help improve ties as well as global security.

"I think (Trump) is going to raise the full range of issues between the two countries," Bolton said.

He added there were areas for cooperation despite the major points of disagreement.

- Reaching out to Russia -

Since coming to power last year, Trump has sought to improve relations with Putin amid tensions between Moscow and the West.

Trump said this month that Russia should be re-admitted to the G7 group of industrialised democracies, from which it was suspended for its annexation of Crimea in 2014.

That comment came at a summit which ended in sharp disagreement between Trump and his G7 allies.

The last, brief meeting between Putin and Trump took place in November 2017 in Vietnam during an APEC summit.

Trump is due to participate in the July 11-12 NATO summit in Brussels before heading to Britain to meet with Prime Minister Theresa May and Queen Elizabeth II on July 13.

US-based news website Politico reported this week that Trump and Putin could meet in the Finnish capital Helsinki.

Finnish President Sauli Niinisto said Helsinki is "always ready to offer its good services if asked." He did not provide further details.

Kremlin-connected analyst Fyodor Lukyanov said the summit would be a milestone of sorts given the dismal state of ties but stressed that any breakthroughs would be unlikely.

"The question is about finding some new approaches because the old ones no longer work," he told AFP.

Putin is unlikely to make any major concessions on the Ukraine crisis or other sensitive issues, giving Washington little incentive to review its sanctions, observers say.

"A Trump-Putin meeting would temporarily ease US-Russia tensions, but new US sanctions are still likely later this year," said the Eurasia Group think tank.

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