U.S. national security adviser John Bolton is heading to Europe on a trip that will also take him to Moscow amid expectations he will clear the way for a July meeting between President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Bolton is scheduled to first meet with U.S. allies on June 25-26 in London and Rome before traveling on June 27 to the Russian capital, where a spokesman has said he would "discuss a potential meeting" between Trump and Putin.
Russia's Foreign Ministry said Bolton will hold talks with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov during his Moscow visit.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a television interview over the weekend that Trump was likely to meet Putin "in the not-too-distant future."
The location of such a meeting has not been set, although officials have said it could take place in Vienna.
An Austrian newspaper said teams from the United States and Russia were already in Vienna preparing for a July 15 meeting between the two leaders.
Trump is scheduled to attend a NATO summit in Brussels on July 11-12 and then visit Britain on July 13.
If Putin were to meet Trump on July 15, he would have to quickly return to Russia to attend the final of the World Cup in Moscow, which starts at 5 p.m. that day.
Russian state-owned TASS news agency on June 24 said the Kremlin was not ready to comment on a potential Trump-Putin summit.
"We are not ready to provide this information," spokesman Dmitry Peskov said. "We will inform you as soon as we are ready."
Trump and Putin have met twice on the sidelines of international summits and they have spoken at least eight times by telephone.
The U.S. president said in March he would meet Putin soon, but since then ties between Washington and Moscow have further deteriorated over the conflict in Syria and the poisoning of a former Russian spy in Britain, which the West blames on Moscow.
Relations were already severely strained by tension over issues including Russia's seizure of Crimea, its role in wars in Syria and eastern Ukraine, and what U.S. intelligence agencies concluded was an "influence campaign" ordered by Putin in an attempt to affect the U.S. presidential election, in part by bolstering Trump and discrediting his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton.
Democrats and some Republicans have accused Trump of being soft on Russia. Trump made clear during his campaign and into his presidency that he wants better relations with Russia and Putin, and has often praised the Russian president.
He has also sharply criticized a U.S. Justice Department investigation into the alleged Russian meddling and whether his associates colluded with Moscow. Russia denies it interfered, despite substantial evidence, and Trump says there was no collusion.
Meanwhile, Reuters reported last week that U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry will meet Russian Energy Minister Aleksandr Novak in Washington on June 26. The report, which cited an unnamed source "familiar with the situation," said that the rare meeting would be held in the context of a World Gas Conference that is being held in the U.S. capital.