WASHINGTON – National Security Adviser John Bolton is in Moscow working on the details of a likely summit next month between President Donald Trump and Russian leader Vladimir Putin, officials said Wednesday.
“While in Moscow today, Ambassador Bolton is meeting with President Vladimir Putin and other senior Russian officials to discuss United States-Russia relations, as well as the potential for a Presidential meeting,” tweeted press secretary Sarah Sanders.
Helsinki, Finland, is a likely location for a Trump-Putin summit that would be tacked onto Trump’s pre-scheduled trip to Europe on July 10-14, officials said, though specific details have yet to be worked out.
Trump’s trip includes a NATO conference in Brussels, and the American president is at odds with allies over their levels of defense spending as well as policy toward Russia.
This would be the first stand-alone summit for Trump and Putin; the two held less formal meetings last year on the sideline of economic conferences in Germany and in Vietnam. They have also spoke by phone several times.
Trump critics are already attacking his plan to meet Putin, saying he is overly supportive of his Russian counterpart in the wake of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election.
Allies have expressed concern that Trump will undercut NATO unity in objecting to Russian expansionism in Ukraine and threats against other countries in Europe.
Earlier this month, Trump suggested that the G-7 group of industrialized nations re-admit Russia as a member. Other members disagreed, and the G-7 summit in Canada dissolved in disputes between Trump and allies over trade.
Officials had discussed Vienna, Austria, as a possible site for a Trump-Putin meeting, but switched to Helsinki because of its proximity to Russia. Putin has scheduling commitments around the World Cup soccer tournament, including the championship game in Moscow on July 15.
Bolton’s meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Moscow is designed to to lay the groundwork for a possible U.S.-Russia summit, officials said.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a television interview on Sunday that Trump was likely to meet Putin “in the not-too-distant future.”
Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Tuesday that Bolton’s meetings in Moscow with Lavrov would focus on bilateral relations, international stability and regional problems.
But that’s applying an upbeat gloss on the matter.
The Trump-Putin meeting would come amid severely strained relations between the two former Cold War foes over issues such as Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region, Moscow’s role in supporting Syrian President Bashar Assad and U.S. intelligence agency allegations that Russia attempted to meddle in the U.S. election.
Trump is scheduled to be in Brussels on July 11 and 12 for a meeting of the NATO military alliance. He then travels to the United Kingdom on July 13, where he will hold talks with British Prime Minister Theresa May. Trump is also scheduled to visit Scotland.
For the United States, Helsinki has some diplomatic-historical resonance: President Gerald Ford traveled there in 1975 to sign the Helsinki Accords, a declaration aimed at improving relations with the then-Communist Soviet Union.
President George H.W. Bush held his first summit meeting with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in the city in 1990. They spoke about a developing crisis in the Middle East.
“Finland is always ready to offer its good services if asked,” Finland’s President Sauli Niinisto tweeted Tuesday in response to questions about the summit.
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