The White House late Friday swatted down claims made by Russia’s new ambassador to the U.S. that he had held a “warm and friendly” introductory meeting with President Donald Trump earlier in the day.
“There was not a meeting,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in an email to TPM. “He was here for a credentialing ceremony with 12 other new ambassadors and their spouses.”
Anatoly Antonov was far more loquacious in his comments to the Russian press, characterizing the initial meeting as chummy.
“The atmosphere was good, constructive and friendly,” Antonov said, as quoted by TASS. “President Trump met me cordially. We agree with his staff members to continue our contacts.”
This initial face-to-face comes at a moment of escalating tensions in U.S.-Russia relations. Just last week, the Trump administration ordered the closure of Russian trade missions in Washington and New York, as well as the Russian consulate in San Francisco, where the fire department found staff burning unidentified items in the fireplace on an unseasonably warm August day. This move follows Russia’s expulsion of hundreds of U.S. diplomatic staff earlier in the summer.
In his remarks to Russian press, Antonov, the country’s former deputy defense minister, said he hoped to see a thawing in relations between the two nations.
Antonov assumed his post in late August, taking over for Sergei Kislyak, who served a nine-year term. Kislyak’s election-year meetings with several current and former members of Trump’s administration are part of the ongoing congressional and federal investigations into Russia’s interference in the 2016 campaign.