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Trump Envoy Cancels Speech at Event With Sanctioned Russian

Ilya Arkhipov, Jake Rudnitsky
Police security guards stand outside the entrance to the ExpoForum Convention ahead of the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum 2016 (SPIEF) in Saint Petersburg, Russia, on Wednesday, June 15, 2016. The 20th anniversary St. Petersburg International Economic Forum which brings together heads of state and governments, political leaders, leading experts and global company executives runs from June 16-18. Photographer: Simon Dawson

The U.S. ambassador to Moscow is no longer scheduled to make a speech at Russia’s premier economic forum next week where he was to give welcoming remarks at a panel including billionaire Viktor Vekselberg, an oligarch under American sanctions and linked to payments to President Donald Trump’s lawyer.

“While I will not be participating in any panel discussions at SPIEF, I will be meeting as many people as possible to discuss the road ahead,” Ambassador Jon Huntsman said in a video posted in the embassy’s Twitter account, referring to the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum. “Dialogue is our only path to progress.”

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Appointed by Trump last year, Huntsman had been listed early this week as giving a “welcoming speech” at the session where Vekselberg was among the panelists. Last week, the program showed him as a member of the panel. On Thursday, the official schedule no longer mentioned any role for Huntsman.

“We regret that the ambassador won’t be giving a speech,” Alexis Rodzianko, president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Russia, the organizer of the Russia-U.S.A. session, said by phone.

Mixed Signals

The Trump administration has been sending mixed signals in regards to Russia, encouraging American business leaders to attend the forum for the first time since the Ukraine crisis even after roiling local markets in April with the harshest sanctions yet against several prominent businessmen and companies. Following Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea, the U.S. had for several years pressured executives to steer clear of President Vladimir Putin’s biggest annual pitch to foreign investors.

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In the video, Huntsman said he wanted to “clear up some misconceptions” about his participation.

“While there are real issues of concern between our two countries and there remain a lot of questions regarding Russian behavior that Americans deserve answers to, the fact is that dialogue represents the way forward,” he said. “Mutual isolation will only drive us apart. That’s why I’m going to SPIEF.”

An embassy spokesperson said he will be attending “as a routine part of his duties as U.S. ambassador. He does not have a speaking role.”

Vekselberg, who was among the Russian businessmen hit with the April sanctions, has been linked to a $500,000 payment to an entity set up by Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen. He denies any involvement in the transaction.

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Updates with embassy comment in eighth paragraph.

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