US senators to Russia next week for congressional delegation
Posted June 21, 2018 5:31 p.m. EDT
(CNN) — A group of Republican US senators will head to Russia next week, two members in the congressional delegation confirmed to CNN on Thursday.
Louisiana Sen. John Kennedy and Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby told CNN that they will travel as part of a congressional delegation trip to Russia next week at the invitation of United States Ambassador to Russia, Jon Huntsman.
Kennedy told CNN that in addition to him and Shelby, Republican Sen. Steve Daines of Montana and Republican Sen. John Hoeven of North Dakota were part of the confirmed group.
Shelby described an agenda of "high-level meetings," though he declined to say specifically with whom. He added, "We think it's good for us to talk."
Kennedy is more ambitious about possible talks.
"I hope we're going to get to meet with (Russian President Vladimir) Putin," he told CNN. "I want to be able to meet with government officials, try to establish some rapport, talk about common interest, talk about common problem."
Kennedy said he's also interested in seeing the state of the Russian economy with his own eyes.
"Some say it's in shambles," he told CNN. "Others say with the increase in the price of oil, it's doing much better. Others say they're spending all their money on Syria and weaponry and the people are starving to death. Others say that's not true. So I don't know."
Kennedy emphasized a trip focused on diplomacy, saying that he believes there are "areas of common interest" between the United States and Russia and that he hopes to "establish rapport between the United States Congress and the Putin administration."
When asked if he would broach the topic of Russian interference in the American election system -- a subject of several congressional investigations as well as special counsel -- Kennedy said he does intend to address the subject with Russian officials.
"Now, I don't want to do anything to start an international incident but I believe in talking frankly about these things," Kennedy said.
He said that there have been a lot of "serious allegations that Russia has interfered with not just our elections" citing Macron's bid in France, Brexit and Merkel.
The trip announcement comes on the heels of other high-level, US-Russia meetings slated in the near future. National Security Adviser John Bolton travels to Moscow next week as well, according to a tweet from the NSC spokesman Garrett Marquis earlier today.
President Donald Trump also told reporters on Thursday that he is considering a meeting with President Vladimir Putin in July. "We're looking at the possibility."