Obama-Putin chat 'a positive development' U.S. officials say
COLLEVILLE-SUR-MER, France - President Obama left for Europe on Monday intending to spank Russia for causing a crisis in Ukraine while on his tour. He was leaving Friday night a little more optimistic that the situation could be resolved diplomatically.
On the sidelines of a D-Day lunch for about 20 heads of state hosted by French President Francois Hollande, Obama spent 15 minutes talking with Russian President Vladimir Putin about the situation in Ukraine. Earlier, Putin had a brief meeting with newly elected Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, who will be inaugurated Saturday.
The meetings did not lead to any breakthroughs. But before departing to return to the United States after the four-day trip, U.S. officials said they saw the discussions as productive.
The Putin-Poroshenko discussion was "a positive development," a senior administration official said, adding that Obama and his team are "more optimistic" about the situation in Ukraine.
Putin's decision Friday to engage directly with Poroshenko, a late invitee, suggested that he might be open to dealing with, or even officially recognizing, the new government.
Putin told reporters that Russia was prepared to work to improve relations with Ukraine. He added that Poroshenko's "determination in general looked right to me, and I liked it."
"I hope the things will go exactly this way, and if this happens, then conditions will also be provided for the development of our relations in other fields, including the economy," Putin said, in remarks broadcast live on Russian television.
He plans to send Russia's ambassador to Ukraine to the inauguration Saturday and has said he is ready for dialogue with Poroshenko.
However, Putin said a week ago that he still regards Viktor Yanukovych, who was ousted as president in February amid popular protests and fled to Russia, as the legitimate leader of Ukraine.
Poroshenko told reporters that he expected Russia to formally recognize Ukraine's May 25 presidential elections, Interfax reported.
Poroshenko also said that he expected talks between Russia and Ukraine to begin in Kiev on Sunday, a day after his Saturday inauguration.
Ben Rhodes, deputy national adviser for strategic communications, said Obama told Putin that in addition to recognizing the Poroshenko government, Putin must also end his support for separatists stirring unrest and violence in eastern Ukraine and stop permitting the transfer of arms and materiel across the border.
"President Obama underscored that the successful Ukrainian election provides an opportunity that should be taken," Rhodes said. "If Russia does take this opportunity to recognize and work with the new government in Kiev, President Obama indicated that there could be openings to reduce tensions."