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US ambassador to Russia explains his decision to stay after the Trump-Putin summit

Vox.com logo Vox.com 7/22/2018 Emily Stewart
Jon Huntsman wearing a suit and tie: Jon Huntsman, now US ambassador to Russia, speaks in South Carolina in 2012. © Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images Jon Huntsman, now US ambassador to Russia, speaks in South Carolina in 2012.

United States Ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman fired back at those calling for him to resign after President Donald Trump’s performance at the Helsinki summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin, saying he’ll continue to serve and represent the US’s interests in this “fragile” moment.

Huntsman late Saturday wrote an op-ed explaining his reasoning in the Salt Lake Tribune, responding to a piece published earlier in the week by columnist Robert Gehrke in the same newspaper calling for him to step down. Huntsman’s brother, Paul Huntsman, bought the Salt Lake Tribune in 2016 and is its owner and publisher.

“Ambassador Huntsman, you work for a pawn, not a president. It’s time to come home,” Gehrke wrote on Tuesday. He argued that there is “no other reasonable course of action to take” after Trump’s disastrous press conference with Putin on Monday, during which the US president appeared to side with Putin over the US intelligence community on the matter of Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

Gehrke said that Huntsman’s duty to his country is “not by holding on to some title and being the emissary of a president who doesn’t share your values, or American values, for that matter,” but instead to step down.

Huntsman, a former Republican governor of Utah and US ambassador to China under the Obama administration, responded with his own op-ed on Saturday, saying he respects Gehrke as an opinion writer and the “legitimate arguments on all sides.” But he disagrees with the assertion he should go away:

If you have occasion to visit us in Moscow, I will introduce you to hundreds of colleagues, who are the most highly trained in their field with years of experience working in Russia. Representatives of our foreign service, civil service, military and intelligence services have neither the time nor inclination to obsess over politics, though the issues of the day are felt by all. Their focus is on the work that needs to be done to stabilize the most dangerous relationship in the world, one that encompasses nuclear weapons, fighting terrorism, stopping bloodshed in Ukraine, and seeking a settlement of the seemingly intractable Syrian crisis. Their dedication to service to their country is above politics, and it inspires me to the core. It is my standard.

As Vox’s Madeleine Ngo notes, multiple people tied to Huntsman criticized Trump’s cozying up to Putin. That included his daughter, Fox News host Abby Huntsman.

Jon Weaver, who served as Huntsman’s campaign strategist when he ran in the 2012 presidential election, called on the former governor to resign.

Tim Miller, press secretary on Huntsman’s 2012 campaign, reacted specifically to Huntsman’s why-I’m-staying op-ed and suggested that Trump officials could find “solidarity in walking away.”

Thus far, Huntsman’s staying.

“I have taken an unscientific survey among my colleagues, whom you reference, about whether I should resign,” Huntsman wrote in response to Gehrke. “The laughter told me everything I needed to know. It also underscores the fragile nature of this moment.”

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