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Putin Speaks With Trump By Phone, Meets Merkel In Sochi


Putin, Merkel Differ Over Ukraine Peace Talks
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WATCH: Putin, Merkel Differ Over Ukraine Peace Talks

U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin have spoken together by telephone for the third time since Trump took office in January.

The scheduled phone conversation on May 2 was the first between the two leaders since the United States carried out a missile strike against a Syrian air base in retaliation for what Western countries charged was a chemical-weapons attack against civilians by Syrian government forces.

A White House statement described the conversation as "a very good one" -- including discussions on the war in Syria, "working together to eradicate terrorism throughout the Middle East," and "how best to resolve the very dangerous situation in North Korea."

The White House also announced that Washington will send a representative to Syria peace talks scheduled in Astana, Kazakhstan, on May 3 and 4.

A Kremlin statement said the emphasis of their phone conversation was on coordinating Russian and U.S. actions in the fight against terrorism.

It said the two agreed to increase dialogue between U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in an attempt to bring a resolution to the war in Syria.

Moscow also said Trump and Putin both expressed support for the idea of organizing their first face-to-face meeting on the sidelines of the July 7-8 summit of the Group of 20 (G20) in Hamburg, Germany.

On North Korea, the Kremlin said Putin called upon Trump to show restraint and make an effort to reduce tensions that have been raised in the aftermath of North Korea's nuclear-weapons and ballistic-missile tests.

Several hours before their phone conversation, Putin met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in the Russian Black Sea port of Sochi for talks focusing on the conflicts in Ukraine and Syria, as well as on strained bilateral relations.

Both leaders said after their May 2 meeting that it is essential for all parties to fulfill their commitments under the Minsk process to regulate the conflict in eastern Ukraine between government forces and Russia-backed separatists.

"Today we once again reiterated the necessity of the strict observation of the Minsk agreements by the parties to the conflict [in eastern Ukraine]," Putin told journalists.

Merkel said Moscow and Berlin "are of differing opinions about the cause of the conflict." She said it was essential for Kyiv to regain complete control of its border, including the portion between the separatist-controlled areas and Russia.

Putin and Merkel also discussed the six-year-old civil war in Syria. Putin repeated Russia's calls for an "impartial investigation" into the alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria's Idlib Province last month that left about 80 people dead.

Putin also said Russia was counting on the United States to help find "efficient solutions" to the conflict in Syria.

Merkel said she spoke to Putin about domestic developments in Russia, including the arrests of demonstrators at recent anticorruption rallies and media reports about the persecution of homosexual men in the Russian North Caucasus region of Chechnya.

"The possibility of the right to demonstrate is a part of civil society," Merkel said.

She also urged Putin to "use his influence" to put an end to the abuse of homosexuals in Chechnya.

Russia's Novaya Gazeta reported in April that at least 100 gay men had been abducted by security forces in Chechnya and at least three had been killed.

Putin defended the actions of Russian police, saying they acted within the framework of the law and showed "far more restraint than their colleagues in other European countries."

Putin also categorically rejected allegations that Moscow interfered in the U.S. presidential election in November or was playing any role in Germany's domestic politics.

The Russia leader said it was "unthinkable" that Russia would interfere in the domestic affairs of other countries. He dismissed the reports of interference in the U.S. election as "rumors." Putin added that Moscow would not tolerate outside interference in its own domestic affairs.

In January, the U.S. intelligence community issued an assessment charging that Putin "ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the U.S. presidential election." Security agencies in Germany, France, and other countries have also alleged Russian efforts to influence their electoral processes.

For her part, Merkel said she was confident Germany could handle any disinformation campaigns and would take "decisive measures" in the event of interference. She also noted that "hybrid warfare plays a role in Russia's military doctrine."

The two leaders also discussed preparations for the G20) summit in Hamburg on July 7-8. The G20 is now the chief format for Russia to meet the other world powers after its exclusion from the Group of Eight (G8), which is now the G7.

In addition to his talks with Merkel, Putin is scheduled to talk by telephone with U.S. President Donald Trump later on May 2.

Merkel's one-day trip was her second visit to Russia since Moscow seized the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine in March 2014.

Russia and Germany have scaled back ties and Merkel has strongly backed EU sanctions on Moscow for seizing Crimea and for its involvement in the war that has killed more than 9,900 people in eastern Ukraine since 2014.

A key mediator in the conflict, which pits Russia-backed separatists against Ukrainian government forces, Merkel is a major proponent of keeping the sanctions on Moscow in place until a stalled peace plan is fulfilled.

Merkel has attended several meetings with Putin, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, and France's Francois Hollande aimed at implementing the Minsk II agreement, which she and Hollande brokered in February 2015.

The most recent such meeting was held in October and the four leaders spoke by phone in April, agreeing to step up implementation of the peace deal.

With reporting by dpa, AP, TASS, and Reuters
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