U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke Friday morning for the first time since April, the White House said, a conversation in which Obama offered an exit ramp for Putin toward reducing tensions.
The conversation took place at a heads-of-state lunch in Normandy, where world leaders traveled Friday to commemorate the anniversary of D-Day.
Ben Rhodes, the White House’s deputy national security adviser for strategic communications, said the conversation lasted about 10 to 15 minutes. It came after Putin met for the first time with Ukrainian President-elect Petro Poroshenko, who will be inaugurated this weekend.
Here’s the full readout of the conversation from the White House:
President Obama spoke informally with President Putin for about 15 minutes at the conclusion of the leaders lunch. President Obama underscored that the successful Ukrainian election provides an opportunity that should be taken. President Obama made clear that de-escalation depends upon Russia recognising President-elect Poroshenko as the legitimate leader of Ukraine, ceasing support for separatists in eastern Ukraine, and stopping the provision of arms and materiel across the border. President Obama noted President-elect Poroshenko’s commitment to pursue reforms to ensure that the rights and interests of all Ukrainians are respected, and urged Russia to work immediately with the government in Kiev to reduce tensions. President Obama made clear that a failure to take these steps would only deepen Russia’s isolation. If Russia does take this opportunity to recognise and work with the new government in Kiev, President Obama indicated that there could be openings to reduce tensions.
Putin told reporters Friday afternoon that an immediate ceasefire in eastern Ukraine would be essential toward beginning talks. A senior Obama administration official said Putin and Poroshenko ahd discussed the terms of a ceasefire, but no details were revealed. The developments on Friday made the administration “more optimistic” of cooling tensions, the official said.
Obama and Putin had stopped regular communications in the wake of the Ukrainian crisis. The last time they spoke was a tense phone conversation as tensions were escalating in the eastern region. Two weeks after that conversation, Obama leveled more sanctions on Putin’s inner circle who were involved in the crisis.
Earlier in the day, White House pool reports had characterised Obama and Putin as purposefully going out of their way to ignore each other. One report said the two leaders were “at times close enough to touch but did not speak with or acknowledge each other.”
“As the leaders began making their way toward the chateau, Potus lingered to make sure Queen Elizabeth was ok while Putin moved ahead chatting with Hollande,” another report read. “At one point as the crowd moseyed slowly toward the building, Obama was right behind Putin and could have tapped him on the shoulder if he wanted to but instead focused his attention elsewhere as if not noticing who was there.”
This post was updated at 1:20 p.m. ET to include a full readout of Obama and Putin’s conversation, as well as new comments from Putin.
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