SALT LAKE CITY – The new U.S. ambassador to Russia said Saturday that restoring Ukrainian sovereignty and bringing North Korea to the negotiating table will be central issues as he works to improve relations between the two countries.
Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman said trust is at a low point as many Americans believe Russia wants to undermine U.S. democracy amid investigations into Russian election meddling. “It is no longer a partisan issue at the political level, either,” he said.
Huntsman takes over at a precarious time between the two countries. He said he wants to improve relations, but the first step is returning Ukrainian control within its internationally recognized borders.
“This is an issue not only with the United States, but with Europe, Canada and virtually every other developed country,” Huntsman said.
He called North Korea an international threat, not just an American problem, and one that Russia has an interest in addressing. “Acting together, we think the United States and Russia could force the North Korean regime to the negotiating table to find a diplomatic solution,” he said.
Those comments came the same day President Donald Trump tweeted that trying to negotiate with North Korea over its nuclear and missile programs is a waste of time.
Huntsman also touched on defeating the Islamic State group and continuing dialogue on Syria during the remarks delivered in Salt Lake City after he was ceremonially sworn into his new office by his successor, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert.
The ceremony requested by Huntsman attracted a hometown audience of heavy-hitters, including Sen. Orrin Hatch, Rep. Mia Love and the new ambassador’s father, billionaire industrialist Jon Huntsman Sr. The event was not open to the public, and Huntsman did not take media questions.
Huntsman won easy confirmation as U.S. ambassador to Russia last week. He met with President Donald Trump on Friday.
Huntsman has been a U.S. ambassador before, serving as the nation’s top diplomat to Singapore under President George H.W. Bush and ambassador to China under President Barack Obama. Huntsman returned to the U.S. to run for president as a Republican in 2012.
He struck a tough tone during his confirmation hearings amid tensions underscored by a series of expulsions of diplomats and closures of diplomatic missions.
Trump has called Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election a hoax. But Huntsman has said there is no question Moscow interfered.
The former governor had an up-and-down relationship with Trump during last year’s campaign. Huntsman backed him after he became the nominee. but he called for Trump to drop out after a 2005 recording surfaced of Trump making lewd comments about women.
Trump had also criticized Huntsman during his tenure serving in Beijing under Obama. But the men buried their differences during Trump’s transition.
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