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SALT LAKE CITY — Restoring sovereignty to Ukraine is an essential first step to improving the strained relationship between the United States and Russia, Ambassador Jon Huntsman Jr. said Saturday.
"This is an issue not only with the United States but with Europe, Canada and virtually every other developed country who are of similar mind," the former Utah governor said.
Huntsman also said the U.S. and Russia must work together to bring North Korea to the negotiating table, something President Donald Trump said in a tweet Saturday would be fruitless.
Huntsman attended a ceremonial swearing-in as the U.S. ambassador to Russia on Saturday at the state Capitol. Gov. Gary Herbert administered the oath of office. Huntsman was officially sworn in Sept. 29 in a private ceremony in Washington, D.C.
Federal and state government leaders, apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Huntsman family members, friends and associates attended the Salt Lake City event.
Huntsman said the United States' relationship with Russia is its most complex in the world, currently marked by a low level of trust. His primary goal as ambassador, he said, is to restore trust between the two nuclear superpowers.
"We shouldn't think this will be easy or that it will be quick," he said. "But I believe that with goodwill on both sides we can turn a corner and begin to work together effectively on addressing several key issues."
As Huntsman spoke Saturday at the ceremony, the Associated Press cited the Serbian foreign minister saying that U.S. and Russian envoys have met in Belgrade in an effort to end the conflict in eastern Ukraine.
Minister Ivica Dacic said Kurt Volker and Vladislav Surkov held talks Saturday in the Serbian capital “dedicated to the Ukrainian crisis.” No details have emerged from the closed-door meeting.
In addition to addressing the situation in Ukraine, Huntsman said North Korea is an international threat and not just an American problem. North Korea has flaunted international norms for years and is an unacceptable threat to its neighbors, including Russia.
"Acting together we think the United States and Russia could force the North Korean regime to the negotiating table to find a diplomatic solution to this problem," he said.
Meantime, Trump took to Twitter on Saturday to say negotiations won't work.
"Presidents and their administrations have been talking to North Korea for 25 years, agreements made and massive amounts of money paid … hasn't worked, agreements violated before the ink was dry, makings fools of U.S. negotiators. Sorry, but only one thing will work!" he tweeted.
Huntsman didn't take questions after the ceremony.
The U.S. and Russia also share a common goal to defeat ISIS and end human suffering in Syria, Huntsman said.
"We must continue our dialog on Syria and following the defeat of ISIS — which will happen — we must work together to find a durable political solution for this war-torn country that maintains the territorial integrity of the Syrian state and protect the interests of all its citizens," he said.
Herbert said Huntsman has the ability to navigate and foster a better relationship between the U.S. and Russia.
"He has a skill set and a work ethic that is remarkable," said Herbert, who served as Huntsman's lieutenant governor.
Huntsman's father, Jon Huntsman Sr., described his son as frank, smart and "extremely well-schooled." He said he understands diplomacy and international affairs "better than anyone in America today."
"He's always been a diplomat in our family as the oldest of nine children," Huntsman Sr. said after the ceremony. "I've always kind of considered him to be my lieutenant."
Huntsman Sr. said he has no concerns about the new ambassador's safety in Russia or the turnover among Trump administration senior officials. He said his son will have a good relationship with the president and act like a professional during his service.
Huntsman met with Trump in the Oval Office on Friday. The meeting was closed to the 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 represent the United States and work toward improving the relationship with Russia.
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."
Following the Moscow ceremony, Huntsman said he looks forward to rebuilding trust between the two countries and strengthening the relationship based on cooperation on common interests.
"I will seek out Russian people from all walks of life to share perspectives, to relay American values, and to deepen my growing appreciation for Russia’s rich and fascinating history and culture," the ambassador said.
Huntsman will return to Russia on Thursday.
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, Rep. Mia Love, R-Utah, President Russell M. Nelson, president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of the LDS Church, Elder M. Russell Ballard and Elder Ronald A. Rasband, both of the Quorum of the Twelve, were among the dignitaries attending the ceremony Saturday at the state Capitol.