- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 13, 2018

President Trump is a welcome guest at the upcoming FIFA World Cup in Russia, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Wednesday.

“Russian President Vladimir Putin said he would be glad to see all guests here in Moscow and certainly this concerns the guests from the United States at the highest level,” Mr. Peskov told journalists when asked if Mr. Trump could be invited to attend a World Cup match, the official Russian state news wire TASS reported.

Just a day before the 2018 competition kicks off with an opening match in Moscow between hosts Russia and Saudi Arabia, European media is feverishly debating which dignitaries will attend the monthlong tournament that concludes on July 15.

Some world leaders face a quandary — attend and possibly be accused of playing into Mr. Putin’s hands during a time of global tension over Russian activities, or decline and be seen as not supporting their home team.

According to German media, Chancellor Angela Merkel has yet to commit one way or anther.

Ms. Merkel attended the 2006 World Cup in Germany, which helped raise her profile. In 2014, however, she also went to more mixed reviews. Images of her cheering a German goal were praised back home, but she received criticism for photos of her sitting alongside Mr. Putin and FIFA’s disgraced former president, Sepp Blatter.

As for the U.K., no government ministers or royal family members will attend. British officials made that announcement earlier this year in response to the poisoning, allegedly by Russia, of a former Kremlin spy on English soil.

French President Emmanuel Macron is keeping his options open. He has told French journalists he will attend but only if France reaches the semifinals. Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman will be present for the opening ceremony and the first game, which features his home team. South Korean President Moon Jae-in has also accepted Russia’s invitation.

Foreign leaders are expected from a range of former Soviet states and also multiple South American countries.

As for Mr. Trump, while the U.S. team is not in this year’s tournament, on Wednesday FIFA announced a joint North American bid will host the 2026 World Cup, returning to competition to the U.S. for the first time since 1994. The U.S-led effort, which includes Canada and Mexico, beat what was seen as a more risky Moroccan bid in a 134 to 65 vote.

Afterwards, Mr. Trump tweeted his approval: “The U.S., together with Mexico and Canada, just got the World Cup. Congratulations - a great deal of hard work!”

U.S. media also reported that some of the president’s behind-the-scenes actions could have helped sway key votes.


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