President Donald Trump is pushing for a full bilateral meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin complete with all of the diplomatic trappings despite reluctance among many of his advisers.
Trump is calling for the meeting with Putin, which would occur during the G20 summit in Germany next month, to include media access and the full range of diplomatic pageantry, according to the Associated Press. His desire for visible meeting with Putin has unsettled many Department of State and NSA officials who feel they should be publicly distancing themselves from Russia in light of the multiple ongoing investigations into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.
A number of administration officials have reportedly suggested an informal “pull aside” meeting or “strategic stability talks,” which typically do not include heads of state, as potential alternatives to the high visibility meeting Trump is after.
Putin’s spokesperson Dmitry Peskov downplayed the importance of diplomatic protocol while speaking with reporters in Moscow on Monday. “The protocol side of it is secondary,” Peskov said after pointing out the leaders will certainly have an opportunity to meet regardless of the official designation attached to the encounter.
The divide within the administration over the nature of the potential meeting is indicative of broader disagreements over how best to deal with Russia amid rampant speculation regarding collusion between Trump campaign officials and Russia. Trump, known for his prioritization of deal making and lack of sensitivity to political optics, wants to make good on his campaign promises to improve cooperation with Russia, particularly as it relates to the conflict in Syria.
Former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Steven Pifer said that many of Trump’s policy advisers have become frustrated with Trump’s unwillingness to adopt a more measured and critical approach to Russia despite the political cost he’s incurred for the failure.
Trump has to directly “say to Putin, ‘We’re not happy about you interfering in our election,'” Pifer told the AP. “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.”
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