US President Donald Trump will meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Germany next week, their first face-to-face talks since the US intelligence community formally declared that Moscow had meddled in the 2016 election, the White House announced.
In a briefing for reporters, Gen. H.R. McMaster, Trump’s national security adviser, and Gary Cohn, Trump’s top economic aide, declined to say whether the president would raise the issue of Russian efforts to influence last year’s political contest.
“There’s no specific agenda,” McMaster said. “We don’t have an agenda set up,” Cohn agreed, adding that the White House was “still finalizing schedules” for Trump’s travel next week.
Asked what Trump hoped Putin would do to build trust between Washington and Moscow, McMaster declined to list specific actions.
“Our relationship with Russia is not different from any other country in terms of us communicating to them what our concerns are, where we see problems in the relationship but also opportunities,” the general said.
At the same time, McMaster said, Trump has tasked his top aides to find ways to “confront Russia’s destabilizing behavior” including “political subversion here, in Europe and elsewhere.”
Trump has not been shy about demanding specific steps from other countries. He scolded NATO allies to speed up increased military spending, for example. He warned South Korea and Germany that he expects them to take steps to reduce their trade surpluses with the United States. And he has repeatedly declared that Mexico will pay for a border wall it opposes.
Trump’s talks with Putin will occur on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit in Hamburg, Germany. Trump also plans to meet with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, British Prime Minister Theresa May, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, South Korean President Moon Jae-in, Chinese President Xi Jinping, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, Indonesian President Joko Widodo and Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.
The meeting comes amid multiple congressional investigations into Russia’s alleged meddling in the 2016 election, as well as a Justice Department special counsel probe into whether Trump’s campaign colluded with Moscow. The president, who has not definitively said he accepts the intelligence community’s findings, has denounced what he describes as a “witch hunt” designed to undermine his legitimacy.
Trump has repeatedly said that he wants better relations with Russia, and his administration made a failed secret push in its early days to ease a range of sanctions former President Barack Obama imposed on Moscow for its alleged interference in the election. At the same time, the State Department has reiterated its commitment to keeping in place sanctions imposed over Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region.
McMaster said Trump hoped to “foster areas of cooperation,” adding that Washington and Moscow could work together to rein in North Korea, battle transnational terrorism, end the Syrian civil war and defeat ISIS.
But the president also wants to “deter” Russia, McMaster told reporters, adding: “Nobody wants a major-power war, right?”