By Andrew Osborn
MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian President Vladimir Putin phoned Elton John on Thursday to tell him he would be ready to meet up for a chat after the British singer requested a meeting to discuss gay rights, Putin's spokesman told Russian news agencies.
Putin's call comes a week after a pair of Russian comedians tricked John into thinking he was talking to Putin on the phone in a stunt that the entertainer laughed off, saying he hoped it would highlight discrimination against gay people.
This time, Dmitry Peskov, Putin's spokesman, said the Russian leader really had phoned John, whose music he has praised in the past.
"Putin spoke to Elton John," Peskov was quoted as saying. "Putin phoned him and said 'I know some guys played a trick on you on the phone but don't get offended. They are harmless people though that of course does not justify what they did.'"
Putin had told John that since he was a popular performer he would be ready to meet him and discuss any subjects which interested him, if their schedules coincided, Peskov said.
Western states and human rights activists have criticised Russia for its treatment of gay people, and John has previously spoken out against a 2013 law banning the dissemination of "gay propaganda" among young people.
Putin has said he is not prejudiced against gay people, but has made comments which activists have criticised as being ambiguous and insulting towards homosexuals.
(Reporting by Andrew Osborn; Editing by Christian Lowe)