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Trump, Putin Discuss North Korean Crisis While Voicing Mutual Praise


U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin at a summit last month in Vietnam

Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Donald Trump discussed the crisis over North Korea's nuclear program in a phone call in which Trump also thanked Putin for praising his management of the U.S. economy.

The two heads of state discussed "the situation in several crisis zones, with a focus on solving the nuclear issue on the Korean peninsula," the Kremlin said in a statement late on December 14 that noted Trump had initiated the phone call.

The White House said the two "discussed working together to resolve the very dangerous situation in North Korea."

But the White House emphasized Trump's gratitude to Putin for defending and praising him at his hours-long yearly press conference held at the Kremlin earlier in the day.

"President Trump thanked President Putin for acknowledging America's strong economic performance," it said.

Putin had cited the sharp rise in U.S. markets since Trump took office in January as evidence of Trump's "fairly serious achievements" during his first year in office.

"Look at how the markets are reacting, they are growing. This shows confidence in the American economy. With all due respect to [Trump's] opponents, these are objective facts."

Putin also criticized the U.S. investigations into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 election and accused Trump's opponents of "incapacitating the president and showing a lack of respect to voters who cast their ballots for him."

Trump during his campaign often heaped praise on Putin, holding his Russian counterpart up as an example of a "strong leader." With all the mutually expressed warmth, some commentators have described their relationship as a budding "bromance."

On North Korea, the phone call was one of several signs from Washington and Moscow that officials that high-level officials are making efforts to broach negotiations with Pyongyang over its accelerating program to develop nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles.

Russia sent a military delegation to North Korea this week, while U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said he is willing to "have the first meeting without preconditions" the United States has pushed in the past because, he said, they are now "unrealistic."

Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said on December 15 that Putin and Trump "spoke in favor of establishing dialogue and setting up contacts with the North Korean side, and agreed to exchange information and initiatives" regarding such efforts.

Apparently in response to Tillerson's comments, Putin at his press conference hailed what he called a new "awareness of reality" in Washington on North Korea.

But he also accused the United States of "aggravating the situation" with North Korea and noted that the United States had used nuclear weapons against Japan during World War II. He said any nuclear strike on Pyongyang would have "catastrophic" consequences.

Putin also mocked members of the U.S. Congress who he said have equated Russia with what they call "rogue regimes" in North Korea and Iran, yet at the same time have called on Russia to help resolve the North Korean crisis.

Russia has less influence with North Korea than China does, but Moscow has clout as a permanent, veto-wielding UN Security Council member that has been involved in diplomacy over Pyongyang's actions for decades, and Moscow's ties with North Korea are much warmer than relations between Washington and Pyongyang.

At the same time, many U.S. officials and lawmakers see Russia as aggressive and dangerous due in part to its seizure of Crimea, its support for separatists in a deadly war in eastern Ukraine, and its military campaign backing President Bashar al-Assad's government in the war that has killed hundreds of thousands of people in Syria.

With reporting by AP, AFP, dpa, Reuters, Interfax, and TASS
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