Biden, Putin Plunge Into Hours of Face-to-Face Talks

By Updated at 2021-06-16 18:04:53 +0000

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GENEVA (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin says he and U.S. President Joe Biden agreed in a “constructive” summit Wednesday to return their nations’ ambassadors to their posts and begin negotiations to replace the last remaining treaty between the two countries limiting nuclear weapons.

Putin said there was “no hostility” during the talks that wrapped up more quickly than expected.

The two sides had said they expected to meet for four to five hours but spent less than three hours together, including an opening meeting with just the two presidents and each one’s top foreign aide.

When it was over, Putin had first crack at describing the results at a solo news conference, with Biden to follow with his own session with reporters.

Putin acknowledged that Biden raised human rights issues with him, including the fate of opposition leader Alexei Navalny. Putin defended Navalny’s prison sentence and deflected repeated questions about mistreatment of Russian opposition leaders by highlighting U.S. domestic turmoil, including the Black Lives Matter protests and the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection.

Putin held forth for nearly an hour before international reporters. While showing defiance at queries about Biden pressing him on human rights, he also expressed a significant measure of respect for Biden as an experienced political leader.

The Russian leader noted that Biden repeated wise advice his mother had given him and also spoke about his family — messaging that Putin said might not have been entirely relevant to their summit but demonstrated Biden’s “moral values.” Though he raised doubt that the U.S.-Russia relationship could soon return to a measure of equilibrium of years past, Putin suggested that Biden was someone he could work with.

“The meeting was actually very efficient,” Putin said. “It was substantive, it was specific. It was aimed at achieving results, and one of them was pushing back the frontiers of trust.”

Putin said he and Biden agreed to begin negotiations on nuclear talks to potentially replace the New START treaty limiting nuclear weapons after it expires in 2026.

Washington broke off talks with Moscow in 2014 in response to Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea and its military intervention in support of separatists in eastern Ukraine. Talks resumed in 2017 but gained little traction and failed to produce an agreement on extending the New START treaty during the Trump administration.

The Russian president said there was an agreement between the leaders to return their ambassadors to their respective postings. Both countries had pulled back their top envoys to Washington and Moscow as relations chilled in recent months.

Russia’s ambassador to the U.S., Anatoly Antonov, was recalled from Washington about three months ago after Biden called Putin a killer; U.S. Ambassador to Russia John Sullivan left Moscow almost two months ago, after Russia suggested he return to Washington for consultations. Putin said that the ambassadors were expected to return their posts in the coming days.

Putin also said the two sides agreed in principle to begin consultations on cybersecurity issues, though he continued to deny U.S. allegations that Russian government was responsible for a spate of recent high-profile hacks against business and government agencies in the United States and around the globe.

The meeting in a book-lined room had a somewhat awkward beginning — both men appeared to avoid looking directly at each other during a brief and chaotic photo opportunity before a scrum of jostling reporters.

Biden nodded when a reporter asked if Putin could be trusted, but the White House quickly sent out a tweet insisting that the president was “very clearly not responding to any one question, but nodding in acknowledgment to the press generally.”

Their body language, at least in their brief moments together in front of the press, was not exceptionally warm.

The two leaders did shake hands — Biden extended his hand first and smiled at the stoic Russian leader — after Swiss President Guy Parmelin welcomed them to Switzerland for the summit. When they were in front of the cameras a few minutes later—this time inside the grand lakeside mansion where the summit was held—they seemed to avoid eye contact.

For months, Biden and Putin have traded sharp rhetoric. Biden has repeatedly called out Putin for malicious cyberattacks by Russian-based hackers on U.S. interests, for the jailing of Russia’s foremost opposition leader and for interference in American elections.

Putin has reacted with whatabout-isms and denials — pointing to the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol to argue that the U.S. has no business lecturing on democratic norms and insisting that the Russian government hasn’t been involved in any election interference or cyberattacks despite U.S. intelligence showing otherwise.

In advance of Wednesday’s meeting, both sides set out to lower expectations.

Even so, Biden said it was an important step if the United States and Russia were able to ultimately find “stability and predictability” in their relationship, a seemingly modest goal from the president for dealing with the person he sees as one of America’s fiercest adversaries.

Arrangements for the meeting were carefully choreographed and vigorously negotiated.

Biden first floated the meeting in an April phone call in which he informed Putin that he would be expelling several Russian diplomats and imposing sanctions against dozens of people and companies, part of an effort to hold the Kremlin accountable for interference in last year’s presidential election and the hacking of federal agencies.

The White House announced ahead of the summit that Biden wouldn’t hold a joint news conference with Putin, deciding it did not want to appear to elevate Putin at a moment when the U.S. president is urging European allies to pressure Putin to cut out myriad provocations.

Biden sees himself with few peers on foreign policy. He traveled the globe as a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and was given difficult foreign policy assignments by President Barack Obama when Biden was vice president. His portfolio included messy spots like Iraq and Ukraine and weighing the mettle of China’s Xi Jinping during his rise to power.

He has repeatedly said that he believes executing effective foreign policy comes from forming strong personal relations, and he has managed to find rapport with both the likes of Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whom Biden has labeled an “autocrat,” and more conventional Western leaders including Canada’s Justin Trudeau.

But with Putin, who he has said has “no soul,” Biden has long been wary. At the same time, he acknowledges that Putin, who has remained the most powerful figure in Russian politics over the span of five U.S. presidents, is not without talent.

“He’s bright. He’s tough,” Biden said earlier this week. “And I have found that he is a — as they say ... a worthy adversary.”

Biden had prepared for his one-on-one by reviewing materials and consulting with officials across government and with outside advisers. Aides said the level of preparation wasn’t unusual. Biden, in a brief exchange with reporters upon a rriving in Geneva on Tuesday night, sought to offer the impression that he wasn’t sweating his big meeting.

“I am always ready,” Biden said.

Earlier today:

With stern expressions and polite words before the cameras, President Joe Biden and Russia’s Vladimir Putin plunged into hours of face-to-face talks Wednesday at a lush lakeside Swiss mansion, a highly anticipated summit at a time when both leaders agree that relations between their countries are at an all-time low.

Biden called it a discussion between “two great powers” and said it was “always better to meet face to face.” Putin, for his part, said he hoped the talks would be “productive.”

The meeting in a book-lined room had a somewhat awkward beginning — both men appeared to avoid looking directly at each other during a brief and chaotic photo opportunity before a scrum of jostling reporters.

Biden nodded when a reporter asked if Putin could be trusted, but the White House quickly sent out a tweet insisting that the president was “very clearly not responding to any one question, but nodding in acknowledgment to the press generally.”

Putin ignored shouted questions from reporters, including if he feared jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny.

The two leaders did shake hands — Biden extended his hand first and smiled at the stoic Russian leader — moments earlier when they posed with Swiss President Guy Parmelin, who welcomed them to Switzerland for the summit.

Biden and Putin are expected to meet for four to five hours of wide-ranging talks.

For months, they have traded sharp rhetoric. Biden has repeatedly called out Putin for malicious cyberattacks by Russian-based hackers on U.S. interests, a disregard for democracy with the jailing of Russia’s foremost opposition leader and interference in American elections.

Putin, for his part, has reacted with whatabout-isms and obfuscations — pointing to the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol to argue that the U.S. has no business lecturing on democratic norms and insisting that the Russian government hasn’t been involved in any election interference or cyberattacks despite U.S. intelligence showing otherwise.

In advance of Wednesday’s meeting, both sides set out to lower expectations.

Even so, Biden said it was an important step if the United States and Russia were able to ultimately find “stability and predictability” in their relationship, a seemingly modest goal from the president for dealing with the person he sees as one of America’s fiercest adversaries.

“We should decide where it’s in our mutual interest, in the interest of the world, to cooperate, and see if we can do that,” Biden told reporters earlier this week. “And the areas where we don’t agree, make it clear what the red lines are.”

Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, told The Associated Press on Wednesday that no breakthroughs were expected and that “the situation is too difficult in Russian-American relations.” He added that “the fact that the two presidents agreed to meet and finally start to speak openly about the problems is already an achievement.”

Arrangements for the meeting were carefully choreographed and vigorously negotiated.

Biden first floated the meeting in an April phone call in which he informed Putin that he would be expelling several Russian diplomats and imposing sanctions against dozens of people and companies, part of an effort to hold the Kremlin accountable for interference in last year’s presidential election and the hacking of federal agencies.

Putin and his entourage arrived first at the summit site: Villa La Grange, a grand lakeside mansion set in Geneva’s biggest park. Next came Biden and his team. Putin flew into Geneva on Wednesday shortly before the scheduled start of the meeting; Biden — who was already in Europe for meetings with allies — arrived the day before.

Biden and Putin first held a relatively intimate meeting joined by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. Each side had a translator for the session, which lasted about an hour and a half. The meeting then expanded to include five senior aides on each side.

After the meeting concludes, Putin is scheduled to hold a solo news conference, with Biden following suit. The White House opted against a joint news conference, deciding it did not want to appear to elevate Putin at a moment when the president is urging European allies to pressure Putin to cut out myriad provocations.

Biden sees himself with few peers on foreign policy. He traveled the globe as a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and was given difficult foreign policy assignments by President Barack Obama when Biden was vice president. His portfolio included messy spots like Iraq and Ukraine and weighing the mettle of China’s Xi Jinping during his rise to power.

He has repeatedly said that he believes executing effective foreign policy comes from forming strong personal relations, and he has managed to find rapport with both the likes of Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whom Biden has labeled an “autocrat,” and conventional politicians like Canada’s Justin Trudeau.

But with Putin, who he has said has “no soul,” Biden has long been wary. At the same time, he acknowledges that Putin, who remained the most powerful figure in Russian politics over the span of five U.S. presidents, is not without talent.

“He’s bright. He’s tough,” Biden said. “And I have found that he is a — as they say...a worthy adversary.”

The White House held on to hope of finding small areas of agreement.

No commitments have been made, but according to the senior administration official, there are hopes that both sides will return their ambassadors to their respective postings following the meeting. Russia’s ambassador to the U.S., Anatoly Antonov, was recalled from Washington about three months ago after Biden called Putin a killer; U.S. Ambassador to Russia John Sullivan left Moscow almost two months ago, after Russia suggested he return to Washington for consultations.

Biden administration officials say they think common ground can be found on arms control. International arms control groups are pressing the Russian and American leaders to start a push for new arms control agreements.

The Biden team will press its concerns on cybersecurity. In recent months, Russia-based hackers have launched alarming attacks on a major U.S. oil pipeline and a Brazil-headquartered meat supplier that operates in the U.S.

The Russian side has said that the imprisonment of Navalny, the jailed opposition leader, is an internal political matter and one area where Putin won’t engage on the matter. White House officials said, however, Biden intended to bring up the matter.

The meeting is sure to invite comparisons with President Donald Trump’s 2018 meeting with Putin in Helsinki, where the two leaders held a joint news conference and Trump sided with Russian denials when asked whether Moscow had meddled in the 2016 presidential election.

Biden has prepared for his one-on-one by reviewing materials and consulting with officials across government and with outside advisers. Aides said the level of preparation wasn’t unusual. Biden, in a brief exchange with reporters upon a rriving in Geneva on Tuesday night, sought to offer the impression that he wasn’t sweating his big meeting.

“I am always ready,” Biden said.

___

Associated Press writer Zeke Miller in Washington and AP video journalist Daniel Kozin contributed reporting

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