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Trump, Putin to speak after months of speculation over Kremlin interference

By David Filipov 

MOSCOW - President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin will finally hold their first official conversation on Saturday, Putin’s spokesman said Friday.

The phone conversation will come after months of speculation about Trump’s warm words for Putin amid allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Trump has argued that Russia can be a strong ally against terrorism. Putin has cautiously expressed optimism that Trump can improve U.S.-Russian relations from their post-Cold War low. Russia is also looking for the United States to lift sanctions imposed under the Obama administration and push for a reduction of NATO’s military presence near Russia’s borders.

Trump has already begun in his week in office to reshape the U.S. role in the world, laying the groundwork, for the “America first” foreign policy he promised in a series of signed and planned executive statements.

Trump has identified areas of shared U.S.-Russia interests, including counterterrorism in general - and rolling back the Islamic State in particular - as well as countering nuclear weapons proliferation.

Trump has suggested that Washington can work with Moscow on the conflicts in Syria and Ukraine, said he might be ready to negotiate down NATO’s strong defensive posture on Russia’s western border, and expressed skepticism about sanctions - unless applied to Iran or North Korea.

Moscow’s establishment has welcomed Trump as a pragmatist who will not try to enforce American values on the rest of the world. In a nationally televised news conference earlier this month, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov railed against the “messianism” and export by the West of “post-Christian values” that embrace “permissiveness,” a nod toward the conservative ethos that has found increasing support in the Kremlin.

“If we hear that in the foreign policy of Donald Trump the main thing will be the fight against terrorism, then we, of course, can only welcome that, since that is exactly the thing that has been lacking with our American partners,” Lavrov said.

Concerns about Trump’s evident admiration for Putin have mounted amid the conclusions by the U.S. intelligence community that the Kremlin interfered in the U.S. election on his behalf, as well as revelations about Trump’s long history of doing business in Russia.

Trump has denied any business involvement in Russia, despite his repeated efforts to build luxury properties in Moscow, a beauty pageant he hosted there there and his benefiting from heavy investments from Russians in his properties around the world.

Putin has dismissed reports that Trump has been compromised by Russian intelligence “total nonsense” and said the allegations were fabricated to “undermine the legitimacy” of Trump’s presidency.

Trump has also vehemently denied the allegations, and has sought to portray his upbeat words about Putin as a positive.

“If Putin likes Donald Trump, guess what, folks? That’s called an asset, not a liability,” Trump said before his inauguration. “Now, I don’t know that I’m going to get along with Vladimir Putin,” he said. “I hope I do. But there’s a good chance I won’t.”

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