Biden Takes The Lead Role He's Always Craved In His High-Stakes First Trip Abroad As President
June 9, 2021
June 16, 2021
President Joe Biden met with Russian President Vladimir Putin here on Wednesday for the first time since taking office in an hours-long meeting that was expected to be contentious.
Putin, who arrived at the summit site first, and Biden shook hands and exchanged a few brief words while posing for a photo on the red carpet outside the main entrance. As expected, neither gave remarks, and the two leaders did not respond to shouted questions from reporters. Following the greeting, the two disappeared inside, double doors closing behind them.
They then posed for another photo inside the meeting room before they started their discussion. Biden and Putin were seated adjacent to each other in a library, a globe between them in the background, with Biden flanked by his secretary of state, Antony Blinken, and Putin joined by his foreign minister. Each leader made brief remarks, with Putin appearing sullen and frequently looking down.
"There are many issues in Russian-American relations that have accumulated and need to be discussed at the highest level," Putin said. "And I hope that our meeting will be productive."
Biden, sitting cross-legged and smiling several times at reporters, told Putin that he believes it is best when leaders can meet face to face. They then sat silently for several moments while photographers jockeyed for a shot and reporters shouted questions that went unanswered.
The summit was scheduled to last four to five hours and will be broken into two sections: a meeting featuring Biden, Blinken, Putin and Russia’s foreign minister only, followed by a larger group session with additional participants. After the meetings, Putin was to hold a solo news conference followed by one from Biden.
Security around Villa La Grange, the picturesque mansion and lakeside park where the summit is taking place, has been extremely tight. The park is blocked off by thick rolls of barbed-wire fencing with Swiss police patrolling the grounds. A large section of the city has been closed off with police boats dotting the crisp waters of Lake Geneva, in a city known for its neutrality and international cooperation.
Geneva is no stranger to high-profile diplomatic meetings. Former President Ronald Reagan met here in 1985 for the first time with then head of the Soviet Union Mikhail Gorbachev in what was seen as the beginning of the thaw between the two countries. But other than the location, there are expected to be few parallels between the meeting 36 years ago between the Russian and American leaders and the one taking place here Wednesday.
There are a range of thorny issues Biden has said he plans to raise, including cyberattacks, human rights abuses, aggression toward Ukraine and election interference.
Both the Russian ambassador to the U.S. and the U.S. ambassador to Russia will be in Geneva, and one of the items on the negotiating table will be their return to their overseas posts, said a person familiar with the planning. After Biden put in place a new round of sanctions on Russia, the U.S. ambassador was pressured to return to Washington, and the Russian ambassador was recalled in Moscow.
The logistics of the meeting give Biden several advantages. Since Putin, who is notoriously late, arrived first, Biden avoided the appearance of being left waiting. Having his secretary of state and longtime foreign policy adviser in the meeting with him will ensure there is someone who can focus on recording what happens and can also be available should there be more technical detail covered, said Michael McFaul, the U.S. ambassador to Russia under the Obama administration.
Not having a side-by-side news conference will also help Biden avoid the appearance of friendliness with Putin — an error that sparked widespread domestic criticism for former Presidents George W. Bush and Donald Trump following their own first meetings with Putin.
The White House isn’t expecting to announce any agreements to be reached out of the summit, but there could be an agreement by the two presidents to initiate talks around areas like nuclear security, administration officials have said.
While Biden has met with Putin before, much has changed in the decade since their last encounter. Putin has grown increasingly authoritarian at home and hostile to the West — he has annexed Crimea, been linked to the hack of U.S. companies and federal agencies, and interfered in the U.S. elections.
Biden has spent days preparing for the summit. Shortly before departing the U.S. for Europe, he gathered in the Roosevelt Room at the White House for a prep session with a group of outside Russia experts — including officials from the Trump and Obama administrations — to discuss a range of views about how to deal with Putin, according to a person familiar with the matter.
“He’s not just winging it. He’s putting a lot of time and attention into this meeting,” the person said.
Biden, who arrived in Geneva Tuesday afternoon, came to the summit after days of meetings with America’s closest allies during a gathering of the Group of Seven leaders, which include Canada, the U.K., France, Italy, Germany and Japan, and a summit of the NATO alliance countries. He said at a news conference Monday that he had told some of those leaders what he planned to say to Putin.
“I shared with our allies that I will convey to President Putin that I’m not looking for conflict with Russia," said Biden, "but that we will respond if Russia continues its harmful activities."
Image Source: Getty Images
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