SALT LAKE CITY — New U.S. Ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman Jr., who met with President Donald Trump in the Oval Office on Friday, said the relationship between the two countries "is at an all-time low."
"We all know we are facing difficult times, probably the most difficult period in the relationship since the end of the Cold War," Huntsman told his daughter Abby Huntsman, a "Fox & Friends" host, in a Fox News interview that aired Friday.
Huntsman, the former Utah governor and ambassador to China under former President Barack Obama, had some positive words for Trump, who chose him for his latest diplomatic posting.
"What I love about the president is he's a problem solver," Huntsman said, offering the same description for Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Secretary of Defense James Mattis.
"So you're surrounded by people who understand the realities inherent in a difficult U.S.-Russian relationship," he said. "The greatest challenge will be showing that we can achieve results in this relationship" that are good for Americans and Russians.
Huntsman said "the last thing I want to tell the president, or the secretary of state, or the secretary of defense in the months and years ahead is, 'We did our very best, sir, but we didn't get anywhere.' I think the taxpayers expect more than that."
What was said in his meeting Friday afternoon in the Oval Office was closed to the news media.
In a brief statement, the White House said the president met with Huntsman and his wife, Mary Kaye, "to wish them well as they return to Moscow to represent the United States and work toward improving our relationship with Russia."
Huntsman told Fox News that the bilateral relationship between the United States and Russia is different from the "political track that people read about in the newspapers on a regular basis that will play out as it will."
Several investigations are underway into Russia's meddling in the 2016 presidential election and possible ties to the Trump campaign. Huntsman said in his Senate confirmation hearing there was "no question" Russia interfered in the election.
The recent decision by Russia to order the expulsion of more than 750 U.S. diplomats in the country following congressional sanctions is "really unfortunate," Huntsman said in the interview with the cable news channel.
"We've been hand in hand on the same team in wars before in history. We've found ourselves on the same page of certain issues before," he said. "But today, the relationship is at an all-time low. I just have to be very frank about that."
Huntsman became emotional during the sit-down interview with his daughter when describing America's sense of service.
"I think we are still the greatest country on the face of the Earth when it comes to our committment to service, our volunteer spirit. Show me another country in the world that turns out during a time of need," he said. "It's a unique place."
Huntsman said he doesn't believe Americans are "less weak today. I think we're stronger. I really do. We have our divides. We have the issues that polarize people. But we also have some central strengths that are our rallying points."
We've been hand in hand on the same team in wars before in history. ... But today, the relationship is at an all-time low. I just have to be very frank about that.
–Jon Huntman Jr., U.S. Ambassador to Russia
A separate Fox News interview that also aired Friday featured Huntsman and his wife talking about their move to Moscow. Mary Kaye Huntsman said "when this job came up, I didn't even bat an eye" because her family's life has been filled with service.
Abby Huntsman said during the “Fox and Friends” segment that her sister, Gracie Mei, adopted from China as an infant in 1999, plans to work in the U.S. Embassy in Moscow.
Jon Huntsman Jr. is scheduled to be in Utah on Saturday for a ceremonial swearing-in event set for 2 p.m. in the Gold Room of the state Capitol. Gov. Gary Herbert, Huntsman's former lieutenant governor and successor, will preside.
Earlier this week, Huntsman presented his diplomatic credentials in a ceremony at the Kremlin in Moscow, where Russian President Vladimir Putin said the ties between Russia and the United States "cannot satisfy us."