US media have reported that President Donald Trump has offered former Utah governor Jon Huntsman the top diplomatic post in Moscow. The two politicians sharply criticized one other in the past.
According to an unnamed White House official, former Utah governor Jon Huntsman indicated on Wednesday that he would accept the role of President Donald Trump's ambassador to Russia.
Huntsman has twice served as an ambassador, first under George H.W. Bush in Singapore and later under Barack Obama in China. He also ran for president in 2012 as a Republican candidate and was briefly considered by Trump as a nominee for Secretary of State.
The appointment would make Huntsman one of the highest profile US diplomats, overseeing the US diplomatic mission in Moscow amid investigations into whether the Kremlin meddled in last year's American presidential election and had contact with the Trump campaign.
White House staff members are unable to discuss the appointment publicly until it has been made official.
Meanwhile, the governor has yet to confirm whether he had been offered or had accepted the post.
A rocky relationship with the president
Huntsman and Trump have exchanged strong words during the president's relatively short political career.
Huntsman was reluctant to back Trump's run for the presidency and only endorsed him once the billionaire real estate mogul became the presumptive nominee. The governor subsequently called for Trump to drop out of the race following the release of a 2005 video in which Trump could be heard making lewd comments about groping women.
Trump's misgivings about Huntsman date back much further to a series of tweets from 2011 and 2012, in which the mogul called the then Ambassador to China a "lightweight" and "weak." He also claimed that China "did a major number on us" during Hunstman's tenure.
However, officials said the two men had put aside their differences during the transition and were prepared to work together.
Rebuilding US-Russia relations
Trump has indicated that he seeks to improve relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin after US-Russia ties sunk to a post-Cold War low during the Obama administration.
Relations between Russia and the West have become increasingly fraught since Russia's annexation of Ukraine's Crimea in 2014 and Putin's backing of Bashar al-Assad's regime in the Syrian civil war.
Tensions spiked last December, Obama's last full month in office, when the US kicked out 35 suspected Russian spies from the country. The expulsion came after US intelligence agencies concluded Russia masterminded the trove of leaked Democratic campaign emails in a bid to tilt the election in Trump's favor. Russia has denied any wrongdoing.
However, the revelations have put the Trump administration under scrutiny, with the president and staff eager to dispel any connections with the Kremlin.
Such pledges have become less convincing in recent weeks following the resignation of Trump's first national security adviser Michael Flynn, who misled Vice-President Mike Pence about conversations with Russia's ambassador to the US.
Shortly thereafter, Attorney General Jeff Sessions faced calls to resign after he failed to disclose meetings with the same ambassadorduring his Senate confirmation hearing. Sessions has refused to step down, instead recusing himself from any investigation into possible ties between Trump and Putin.
cmb, dm/jm (AP, AFP, Reuters)