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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 20 June 2018

Trump taps Jon Huntsman as US ambassador to Russia: White House

FILE PHOTO: Republican presidential candidate and former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman speaks at the Myrtle Beach Convention Center in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, U.S., January 16, 2012. REUTERS/Chris Keane/File Photo TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
FILE PHOTO: Republican presidential candidate and former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman speaks at the Myrtle Beach Convention Center in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, U.S., January 16, 2012. REUTERS/Chris Keane/File Photo TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

President Donald Trump has tapped veteran diplomat and former Utah governor Jon Huntsman as ambassador to Russia.

The White House announcement came on Tuesday amid swirling controversy and multiple investigations into allegations that the Trump campaign colluded with Moscow to win the 2016 election.

Mr Huntsman, 57, previously served as US ambassador to China and Singapore.

If confirmed by the US Senate, Mr Huntsman would venture to Moscow for a job that will be particularly high-profile as a special counsel in Washington probes the ever-growing Russia scandal plaguing the White House.

As a candidate, Mr Trump criticised Mr Huntsman, a fluent Mandarin speaker, for letting China do "a major number on the US" during his time in Beijing under former president Barack Obama.

Mr Huntsman spent less than two years in that post before launching a failed bid to secure the 2012 Republican presidential nomination.

A two-time governor of the state of Utah, he currently serves as chairman of the Atlantic Council, a foreign policy think tank, and is a director on several corporate boards, including Caterpillar, Chevron, Ford Motor and Hilton.

The father-of-seven initially endorsed Mr Trump for president last year, but later called on him to drop out following the release of a 2005 recording in which the former reality TV star used vulgar language to brag about groping women.

A moderate Republican, he was George Bush Sr's ambassador to Singapore from 1992-1993, becoming the youngest American to hold the post of ambassador in more than 100 years.

He served as a deputy trade representative under George W Bush's administration from 2001-2003 where he helped negotiate several pacts with China.

He then resigned to run for governor of Utah, a heavily Mormon state with which he shares religious ties, winning with 78 per cent of the vote when he stood a second time.

Former president Barack Obama reached across party lines to name Mr Huntsman his ambassador to China in 2009, a position he held until 2011, when he left to launch a presidential run against his former boss.

The Trump administration has been besieged by allegations that the president's closest advisers colluded with Russia to win the 2016 election.

Mr Trump's eldest son Donald Jr recently released e-mails showing he held a meeting during the campaign with Kremlin-connected figures, hoping to "get dirt" on his dad's election rival Hillary Clinton.

The controversy grew on Tuesday after the White House revealed the US leader had an additional, previously undisclosed chat with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin at this month's G20 summit in Hamburg, raising questions about what the pair talked about, who was present and why the meeting was not previously mentioned.

Meanwhile, the State Department said on Tuesday it had held "tough, forthright" talks with Russian officials over access to diplomatic compounds in the US that were suspended by Mr Obama.