WASHINGTON - Rarely has an RSVP been so complicated. President Donald Trump is open to visiting Moscow — if he gets a formal invitation from Vladimir Putin, the White House said. Russian President Putin said he's game for a trip to Washington — but his answer came only after Trump retracted his invitation for a fall sit-down.
The awkward back and forth is the latest round of summit drama flowing from the two leaders' controversial first meeting in Helsinki this month. It underscores Trump's eagerness to forge a warmer relationship with Putin, though the Russian does not appear to share the urgency and Trump's allies in Washington are watching with frustration.
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Trump's tentative yes to a Moscow trip comes even as lawmakers are still pushing for details about what he and Putin discussed in Helsinki. The president has been widely criticized for failing to publicly denounce Russia's interference in the 2016 U.S. election and appearing to accept Putin's denials of such activity.
Trump's response to the criticism — an abruptly announced invitation for a second meeting in Washington in the fall — got an ice-cold reception from Republicans in Congress facing tough elections in November. Moscow was lukewarm and did not immediately accept.
Then National Security Adviser John Bolton said Wednesday that plans for a fall visit would be delayed until 2019. He cited special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian election meddling as the reason, using Trump's favorite term for the probe: "witch hunt."
But the possibility of a Trump trip to Moscow emerged Friday after Putin said he was ready to invite Trump — or to visit Washington if conditions are right.