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SALT LAKE CITY — The United States needs to go into the summit with Russia later this month with "eyes wide open" and be willing to hold the Kremlin responsible for its involvement in a new form of warfare, U.S. Ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman Jr. said.
President Donald Trump is pursuing the July 16 meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin to help reduce tensions and create constructive dialog that improves peace and security around the world, the former Utah governor told reporters in a conference call Thursday.
"The president believes a better relationship with Russia would be good for both America and Russia, but the ball really is in Russia's court, and the president will continue to hold Russia accountable for its malign activities," Huntsman said.
Trump told reporters last week he would press Putin on election meddling and discuss Syria and Ukraine during their meeting in Helsinki.
Huntsman said the U.S. needs to hold Russia responsible for "hybrid warfare," which is widely understood to blend conventional and unconventional, regular and irregular, and information and cyber tactics.
Trump's priority is to protect Americans and American interests, including those of U.S. allies, he said.
"We're entering with our eyes wide open, but peace is always worth the effort," Huntsman said.
Each president has tried a reset or a redo of the U.S.-Russia relationship since the end of the Cold War, and in each case, it has led to a boom-and-bust cycle, Huntsman said. Inevitably, he said, that has left the relationship worse off and with deep disappointments.
Huntsman said there needs to be a sober assessment of the root causes of the problems between the two countries and how to best address them.
"You hear it a lot on the talk shows, you read about election meddling in popular punditry," he said. "But the fact of the matter is that we have not had the kind of conversations — direct conversations, across-the-table conversations — about things like election meddling and malign activity that really do need to take place."
Seven U.S. senators recently went to Moscow, possibly the largest congressional delegation to visit since the creation of the Russian Republic in the early 1990s, Huntsman said. Conversations about election meddling, Ukraine and Syria were talked about in ways they haven't been before, he said.
Although those issues are discussed in diplomatic channels, a full airing of them is possible during the summit, he said.
"And again," Huntsman said, "you can't solve problems if you're not willing to talk about them."