Former Utah governor Jon Huntsman will be nominated as the U.S. ambassador to Russia, the White House announced Tuesday, ending months of delay in formalizing the appointment amid deteriorating relations between the two countries.
The White House confirmed in March that it would name the former Republican presidential contender and U.S. ambassador to China under President Barack Obama to the Russia post. But the White House had delayed formally naming Huntsman and sending the nomination to the Senate for confirmation as the United States waited for the Kremlin to approve his selection.
The nomination comes amid what could be a thaw in U.S. relations with Russia following the first face-to-face meeting between President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Group of 20 summit in Hamburg, Germany this month. The Trump administration is also under fire amid a widening investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election and the possible collusion of Trump campaign associates.
Trump and Putin met for over two hours in a formal bilateral setting at the G-20. And the two met a second time for an additional hour at a dinner for G-20 leaders following the bilateral meeting. The White House on Tuesday confirmed the second meeting, but said that it was a “brief conversation.”
In their wide-ranging bilateral meeting, Trump pressed Putin on Russian interference in the 2016 election and the civil war in Syria. Both leaders reported that the meeting went well. But Russia and the United States remain locked in a dispute over sanctions imposed by the Obama administration.
Huntsman’s nomination was announced one day after Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov met at the State Department with Undersecretary of State Thomas Shannon. They discussed what the State Department characterized as “irritants” in the U.S.-Russia relationship, including Moscow’s demand that the United States return two Russian-owned mansions in Maryland and New York that were seized in December in part as a response to Russian meddling in last year’s election.
White House officials have said that the United States is open to returning the sites to Russia, although the Obama administration had said they were being used for espionage.
The Kremlin approved Huntsman’s appointment Monday night about the same time that the United States approved Russian politician Anatoly Antonov to serve as Russia’s ambassador in Washington, according to a person familiar with the situation who was not authorized to speak publicly about pending appointments. Ambassadors must be approved by the governments of the countries that will host them.
Huntsman, a Republican, was ambassador to China from 2009 to 2011 . He also was ambassador to Singapore from 1992 to 1993 under President George H.W. Bush. He ran for president in 2012.
The company owned by Huntsman’s family has business interests in Russia, and he has traveled to that country in that capacity. . But he is better known for his expertise in China. He speaks Mandarin Chinese, and he and his wife have adopted a daughter from China.
Carol Morello contributed to this report.