Donald Trump spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin Thursday for the first time since the publication of a New York Times story alleging that Russia paid bounties to Taliban fighters for killing US troops.
Reports of the conversation suggest Mr Trump did not bring the bounty story up to Mr Putin.
Judd Deere, a White House spokesman, issued a statement claiming the men discussed “efforts to defeat the coronavirus pandemic while continuing to reopen global economies.”
Earlier this month, Russia was accused of attempting to hack coronavirus vaccine research being conducted by the US, UK and Canada.
Mr Deere did not indicate whether or not Mr Trump raised the issue of hacking, but said the leaders discussed preparations for upcoming weapons discussions involving China.
“The two leaders also discussed critical bilateral and global issues. President Trump reiterated his hope of avoiding an expensive three-way arms race between China, Russia, and the United States and looked forward to progress on upcoming arms control negotiations in Vienna,” the spokesman said.
A statement issued by Russia’s government claimed the leaders discussed “strategic stability” and “arms control” as well as the coronavirus, future economic concerns and Iran’s nuclear program.
The president has been under fire from various groups for his reluctance to hold Russia accountable for the alleged bounty scheme.
An ad produced by the neoconservative, “Never Trump” Republicans at the Lincoln Project featured a veteran calling Mr Trump a coward for not retaliating against Russia.
VoteVets, a group of veterans opposed to Mr Trump, have been especially critical of the president since the story broke.
“It’s been almost 4 weeks and only silence. Trump spoke with Putin TODAY,” the VoteVets Twitter account wrote. “Reporters, ask him if he stood up to his Russian master and questioned him about the bounties on our troops’ heads. Ask him if he even cares.”
Mr Trump claims he was never briefed on the bounty scheme because the threats were never considered credible enough to warrant his review. At one point the president even referred to the story as a hoax.
Republican lawmakers have maintained that there is not enough evidence that the scheme actually occurred to justify a punitive response, and rejected an amendment to the annual defence policy bill that would introduce new sanctions on Russia.