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Trump Eager for Meeting With Putin     06/26 06:10

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Donald Trump is eager to meet Russian President 
Vladimir Putin with full diplomatic bells and whistles when the two are in 
Germany for a multinational summit next month. But the idea is exposing deep 
divisions within the administration on the best way to approach Moscow in the 
midst of an ongoing investigation into Russian meddling in the U.S. elections.

   Many administration officials believe the U.S. needs to maintain its 
distance from Russia at such a sensitive time --- and interact only with great 
caution.

   But Trump and some others within his administration have been pressing for a 
full bilateral meeting. He's calling for media access and all the typical 
protocol associated with such sessions, even as officials within the State 
Department and National Security Council urge more restraint, according to a 
current and a former administration official.

   Some advisers have recommended that the president instead do either a quick, 
informal "pull-aside" on the sidelines of the summit, or that the U.S. and 
Russian delegations hold "strategic stability talks," which typically don't 
involve the presidents. The officials spoke anonymously to discuss private 
policy discussions.

   The contrasting views underscore differing views within the administration 
on overall Russia policy, and Trump's eagerness to develop a working 
relationship with Russia despite the ongoing investigations.

   Asked about the AP report that Trump is eager for a full bilateral meeting, 
Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters in Moscow on Monday that "the 
protocol side of it is secondary." The two leaders will be attending the same 
event in the same place at the same time, Peskov said, so "in any case there 
will be a chance to meet." Peskov added, however, that no progress in hammering 
out the details of the meeting has been made yet.

   There are potential benefits to a meeting with Putin. A face-to-face meeting 
can humanize the two sides and often removes some of the intrigue involved in 
impersonal, telephone communication. Trump --- the ultimate dealmaker --- has 
repeatedly suggested that he can replace the Obama-era damage in the 
U.S.-Russia relationship with a partnership, particularly on issues like the 
ongoing Syria conflict.

   There are big risks, though. Trump is known to veer off-script, creating the 
possibility for a high-stakes diplomatic blunder. In a brief Oval Office 
meeting with top Russian diplomats last month, Trump revealed highly classified 
information about an Islamic State group threat to airlines that was relayed to 
him by Israel, according to a senior administration official. The White House 
defended the disclosures as "wholly appropriate."

   In addition, many observers warn that Putin is not to be trusted.

   Oleg Kalugin, a former general with Russia's main security agency, known as 
the KGB, said Putin, a shrewd and experienced politician, has "other 
priorities" than discussing the accusations that Russia hacked the U.S. 
election with Trump, such as easing sanctions, raising oil prices, as well as 
next year's presidential elections in Russia.

   "Putin knows how to redirect a conversation in his favor," Kalugin said.

   Nina Khrushcheva, a Russian affairs professor at the New School, said Trump 
is in an "impossible position."

   "He can't be too nice to Putin because it's going to be interpreted in a way 
that suggests he has a special relationship with Russia," she said. "He can't 
be too mean because Putin has long arms and KGB thinking. So Trump needs to 
have a good relationship with him but he also needs to fulfill his campaign 
promises of establishing better relations with Russia."

   The White House said no final decision has been made about whether a meeting 
will take place. It did not respond to questions about the opposing views 
within the administration.

   Bilateral meetings are common during summits like the G20, where many world 
leaders and their advisers are gathered in one place. The meetings are 
typically highly choreographed affairs, with everything from the way the two 
leaders shake hands to the looks that they exchange and the actual words spoken 
offering glimpses into the state of affairs.

   The last U.S.-Russia bilateral meeting was a 2015 encounter between Putin 
and President Barack Obama that began with an awkward handshake and ended with 
progress on the brutal civil war in Syria.

   That 2015 meeting, the first in two years, involved a 90-minute sit-down at 
U.N. headquarters. Putin and U.S. officials later said the two leaders had made 
progress on issues related to Syria, which had strained their already tense 
relationship. For the Obama administration, cautious engagement was the name of 
the game, with the U.S. working tirelessly to find middle ground with Moscow on 
Syria, Ukraine and other issues.

   The disconnect between Trump and his advisers in the State Department and 
National Security Council over Russia runs deeper than the debate over a G20 
bilateral.

   A former administration official who spoke anonymously to discuss classified 
information said that frustration is growing among foreign policy advisers over 
the failure of the White House to embrace a more cautious and critical approach 
to Russia. All 17 U.S. intelligence agencies have agreed Russia was behind last 
year's hack of Democratic email systems and tried to influence the 2016 
election to benefit Trump.

   Trump has to directly "say to Putin, 'We're not happy about you interfering 
in our election,'" said Steven Pifer, a former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine. "If 
you don't say that, you are going to get hammered by the press and Congress and 
you can guarantee Congress will pass sanctions legislation against Russia."

   "They also need to keep their expectations very, very modest," added Pifer. 
"If they aim for a homerun in Hamburg, my guess is they'll strike out."


(KA)

 
 
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