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Trump and Putin to Speak by Phone This Weekend

The leaders will speak after weeks of claims that Russia tried to interfere in the election, and signals from Trump that sanctions could be lifted.
Image: Russian President Vladimir Putin gives a speech during the award ceremony on Dec., 8, 2016 in Moscow, Russia.
Russian President Vladimir Putin gives a speech during the award ceremony on Dec., 8, 2016 in Moscow, Russia.Mikhail Svetlov / Getty Images

President Donald Trump will speak with Russian President Vladimir Putin by phone this weekend, an administration official familiar with the planning said.

The planned phone call appears to be the first conversation between the two leaders since Trump was inaugurated as the nation’s 45th president last Friday.

Assessments by the U.S. intelligence community that the Russian government was involved in a covert campaign to help Trump during the presidential campaign have caused critics to raise doubts about the election.

Trump and other Republicans repeatedly denied that the cyber-attacks on Democratic Party institutions and release of stolen emails affected the outcome of the election, and Russia has denied any involvement.

Trump was reluctant to accept the intelligence assessments, but during a press conference earlier this month he acknowledged for the first time, "As far as hacking, I think it's Russia." Trump added, speaking of Putin: “He shouldn't be doing it. He won't be doing it.”

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The administration official did not say whether Trump would bring up hacking or what else the two leader might discuss, including the fate of U.S. sanctions imposed on Russia by the Barack Obama administration for its alleged interference.

Trump told the Wall Street Journal in an interview published on Jan. 13 that he would maintain the sanctions on Russia "at least for a period of time” but left the door open to lifting them if there was improved relations and cooperation between the countries.

"If you get along and if Russia is really helping us, why would anybody have sanctions if somebody's doing some really great things?" Trump told the newspaper.

Some Republicans who have differed with Trump on Russia, including Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham, have accused Putin of being a dictator. The two senators have said they will seek tougher sanctions.

Related: Analysis: Russia's Mideast Actions Show Bid for Superpower Status

The Obama administration, which in 2009 sought to reset relations with Russia, issued sanctions against Russian officials and businesses over their alleged support for separatist forces in Ukraine following the annexation of Crimea.

Relations deteriorated further over Russia's involvement in the Syrian civil war, in which the former Soviet nation was accused of atrocities during air strikes in the city of Aleppo.

Trump has at times had positive words for Putin, and Putin praised Trump during the campaign.

“Well, if Putin likes Donald Trump, I consider that an asset, not a liability, because we have a horrible relationship with Russia,” Trump said at the Jan. 11 press conference.

Trump will meet with British Prime Minister Theresa May on Friday, in his first face-to-face meeting with a foreign head of state since being inaugurated.

May, who came into power following the "Brexit" vote to leave the European Union and subsequent resignation of David Cameron, urged in a speech Thursday that Trump treat Russia with caution.

Related: Putin Says Obama Administration Is Trying to Undermine Trump's Legitimacy

"When it comes to Russia, as so often it is wise to turn to the example of President Reagan who — during his negotiations with his opposite number Mikhail Gorbachev — used to abide by the adage 'trust but verify.' With President Putin, my advice is to 'engage but beware,'" May said.

On Thursday Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in an address to parliament said Russia is ready to do its part in "restoring normal relations."

But Lavrov added that "overcoming the most heavy damage inflicted on the U.S.-Russian relations by the administration of Barack Obama will take time and serious effort,” and said Russia was not naïve in its expectations.

"I know that Mr. Trump is considered a master of deal-making, but President Putin also knows how to make deals, and always in Russia's interests," Lavrov said.