President-elect Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed in a telephone conversation Monday that relations between their countries were “unsatisfactory” and vowed to work together to improve them, the Kremlin said in a statement.
Moscow said the two men discussed combining efforts in the fight against terrorism, talked about “a settlement for the crisis in Syria” and agreed that their aides would begin working on a face-to-face meeting between them.
Trump’s office later said that Putin had called to “offer his congratulations” and that they had discussed shared threats and challenges, “strategic economic issues” and the long-term relationship between the two nations.
The president-elect spoke admiringly of Putin during the campaign, praising him as a stronger leader than President Barack Obama and saying the two countries should join together to fight terrorists, particularly the Islamic State in Syria.
Those views put Trump at odds with many GOP defense hawks, who have praised his promise to increase military spending but are uniformly suspicious of Moscow and have denounced Russian actions in Eastern Europe, Ukraine and Syria. The offer of cooperation could also immerse Trump in a deep controversy with the Pentagon, where military and civilian leaders have strongly opposed collaboration with Russia, particularly in Syria.
U.S. intelligence officials have also expressed concern, noting that the Kremlin is believed to have been involved with hacking the email accounts of prominent Democrats, in hopes of injecting chaos in the U.S. electoral process and perhaps swaying the outcome of the vote.
Trump’s conversations with Putin and other world leaders came as protests continued for a sixth straight day in major cities and on college campuses over last week’s election results, in which Trump won the electoral college but lost the popular vote to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
He also faced escalating criticism over his appointment of former Breitbart News head Stephen K. Bannon as chief strategist at the White House. Bannon has been denounced by a chorus of advocacy groups, commentators and congressional Democrats as a proponent of racist, anti-Semitic and misogynistic views.
“Bringing Steve Bannon into the White House is an alarming signal that President-elect Trump remains committed to the hateful and divisive vision that defined his campaign,” House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, Calif., said in a statement. “There must be no sugarcoating the reality that a white nationalist has been named chief strategist for the Trump Administration.” Trump allies have dismissed the accusation.
Obama, in his first news conference since the election, declined to comment on Bannon and sought to reassure the country and the international community that Trump is committed to governing in a more realistic and pragmatic fashion than he displayed on the campaign trail. Obama said Trump pledged in their conversation last week to maintain U.S. strategic relationships, including the NATO alliance.
At the same time, Obama urged the president-elect to reach out to groups representing minorities and women , many of whom have felt slighted by his candidacy.
“One of the great things about the United States is that when it comes to world affairs, the president, obviously, is the leader of the executive branch, the commander in chief, the spokesperson for the nation, but the influence and the work that we have is the result not just of the president. It is the result of countless interactions and arrangements and relationships,” Obama said. “. . . And there is enormous continuity beneath the day-to-day news that makes us that indispensable nation when it comes to maintaining order and promoting prosperity around the world. That will continue.”
Trump has signaled in numerous ways that he will not hew to many of the norms of past presidents, from declining to release his tax returns to relying on his family as key advisers. Previously, he has said he would avoid conflicts of interest as president by turning his business over to his children.
Since his victory last week, Trump has received congratulatory calls from a number of foreign leaders, including some he sharply criticized during the presidential race, such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Sunday night, after he spoke with Chinese President Xi Jinping, Trump’s office said that he “believes the two leaders will have one of the strongest relationships for both countries moving forward.”