U.S. President-elect Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin on November 14 discussed battered bilateral ties between their countries in the first phone call between the two men since Trump's election last week.
Trump’s team said in a statement that Putin called him earlier in the day and congratulated him on his November 8 win against Democratic rival Hillary Clinton and that the Republican president-elect is "very much looking forward to having a strong and enduring relationship with Russia."
"During the call, the two leaders discussed a range of issues including the threats and challenges facing the United States and Russia, strategic economic issues, and the historical U.S.-Russia relationship that dates back over 200 years," the statement said.
The Kremlin said earlier on November 14 that Putin and Trump both agreed that the current state of relations is "extremely unsatisfactory."
Putin told Trump in the call that he was ready to have a dialogue on the basis of "mutual respect" and "nonintervention into each other’s internal affairs," the Kremlin statement said.
It added that Putin and Trump had agreed to work to "channel bilateral relationships into constructive cooperation."
Relations between the two sides have deteriorated sharply over Russia’s illegal annexation of Ukraine's Crimea territory in 2014, its backing of armed separatists in eastern Ukraine, and its support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime.
The outgoing administration of U.S. President Barack Obama has imposed several waves of sanctions against Russia over its role in Ukraine's conflict -- punitive measures that have enraged Moscow.
Since Trump's election, Russian officials have voiced optimism that his administration could roll back the Ukraine-related sanctions Obama has issued by executive order.
The national emergency that Obama declared in connection with Crimea's seizure and illegal annexation by Russia serves as the foundation for sanctions. The executive order declaring that emergency is set to expire in early March.
Trump, who is set to succeed Obama in January, said repeatedly during his campaign that he wants to mend the frayed ties between the two countries. He also said he might think twice about defending NATO allies unless they increase their defense spending.
Trump’s statements about Russia -- including positive words about Putin and the suggestion that he may recognize Russia's annexation of Crimea -- triggered criticism from political opponents and some in his own party that he was advocating an appeasement policy with Moscow.
His comments about NATO, meanwhile, have sparked fear in Europe, where some have called for the European Union to bolster its own common defense plan.
Eastern European members of NATO that were previously under Moscow’s domain during Soviet times -- such as the Baltic nations -- have voiced particular concern over Russian expansionism in Ukraine and potential Kremlin designs on their territory.
That prompted the outgoing U.S. President Barack Obama on November 14 to reassure NATO allies that Trump has indicated strong backing for the alliance, despite his statements during the election campaign.
Obama said he and Trump had a useful and "free-flowing conversation" when the two met at the White House last week following Trump's election victory.
Asked what he would tell foreign leaders about Trump's faith in the alliance, Obama replied: "There is no weakening of resolve when it comes to America's commitment to maintaining a strong and robust NATO relationship."
Meanwhile, U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter on November 14 advised NATO countries worried about Trump’s commitment to the alliance that they should talk to members of Trump's incoming administration.
Carter said he could not speak for Trump's incoming administration, but urged NATO partners to take advantage of the opportunity to air their concerns with Trump's team.
"The only thing I would say is, engage with the new administration," Carter said. "Work with them. Stay committed to the values and the principles that we have stood for. We're much better at protecting ourselves if we can find a way to work together."
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said on November 13 that "this is no time to question the partnership between Europe and the United States," and that "going it alone is not an option."