President Donald Trump wants to work with Russian President Vladimir Putin to achieve "detente," the U.S. envoy to Russia said Tuesday.
"I don't know what the proper diplomatic term for it is, but my president has said repeatedly that he wants a better relationship with Russia. Repeatedly," Ambassador Jon Huntsman Jr., said Tuesday at media roundtable in Vladivostok, Russia. "You can call it a desire for detente or a desire for a healthier relationship."
Trump has said clearly that he would like to engage personally with Putin, he said.
Huntsman, the former Utah governor, also weighed in on a possible meeting between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, according to a transcript of the discussion posted on the U.S. Embassy website.
Trump is "very sincere" when he says he wants a stable, predictable and manageable U.S.-Russia relationship, Huntsman said. And, he said, Putin wants the same thing.
"So, we have both presidents that want to move in that direction. And I think, I'm hoping, and I've said this before and I hope I'm not proven wrong, that despite the events that we've experienced, the ups and downs, that we will end 2018 in a better place," Huntsman said. "And I still believe that to be the case."
Americans apparently don't share that optimism.
An Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll last week showed 56 percent think the relationship between the U.S. and Russia will get worse over the next year, while just 13 percent think it will improve.
Even among Republicans, more expect the relationship with Russia to get worse than better, 40 percent to 20 percent, though another 40 percent expect it to stay about the same.
Trump congratulated Putin on his election victory in a phone call last month and afterward said the two leaders would soon meet in person. Huntsman, too, suggested early this year that Trump and Putin were headed toward a summit. So far, no plans for a meeting have been announced.
Meantime, the U.S. has imposed the toughest economic sanctions yet on Russia, expelled dozens of Russian intelligence officers and closed Russia's consulate in Seattle, deeming it a counterintelligence threat. Russia kicked out dozens of U.S. diplomats and closed the U.S. consulate in St. Petersburg in response.
Tensions also rose after Trump ordered airstrikes on Syria earlier this month in retaliation for an alleged chemical weapons attack.
A reporter at the roundtable also asked Huntsman about a possible meeting between Trump and Kim Jong Un, noting Vladivostok as one of several possible summit sites.
"Is your visit considered to be an advance visit in order to prepare the potential summit?" Huntsman was asked.
"You should read nothing more into my visit other than that which was stated initially: to conduct business as United States ambassador," Huntsman replied, adding he'll let the White House make that announcement "in due course."
What is significant is that Trump has stated a desire to meet with Kim, he said.
"This has never happened in history," Huntsman said. "I'm not sure that anyone could have predicted this six months ago."
Trump on Tuesday said Kim has been "very open" and "very honorable," and wants a historic, high-stakes meeting as soon as possible, according to the Associated Press. It is a sharp break from Trump's previous denunciations of the North Korean leader as "Little Rocket Man."
The United States and North Korea have been negotiating a summit between Trump and Kim to be held in May or June to broker a deal on Pyongyang's nuclear ambitions.