Biden to meet Putin in Geneva, White House says, with goal of restoring 'stability'

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

President Joe Biden will meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Geneva, Switzerland, on June 16, the White House said Tuesday, in their first face-to-face encounter since Biden took office.

"The leaders will discuss the full range of pressing issues, as we seek to restore predictability and stability to the U.S.-Russia relationship," White House press secretary Jen Psaki said of Biden's goals for the summit.

The Kremlin also confirmed the date for the much-anticipated meeting.

On the heels of the announcement, Psaki confirmed there were no preconditions.

After the U.S. and European Union accused Belarus of "hijacking" a Ryanair civilian airliner on Sunday by forcing it to land in the country so authorities could arrest a prominent critic of its authoritarian leader Alexander Lukashenko, Psaki was asked whether the incident would cause the U.S. to reconsider a U.S.-Russia summit given the close relationship between Lukashenko and Putin.

"It does not mean that we will hold back on areas where we have concern, as you've seen over the past several weeks, where we have simultaneously issued an invitation to have a meeting while also putting forward sanctions for actions that we find unacceptable," Psaki said.

Psaki dodged when asked whether the U.S. would cancel the meeting if new evidence emerged proving Russia had some involvement in the incident, saying the the U.S. "does not believe that that is the case."

"That's disproving a negative here, that doesn't exist, that we have not conveyed from here," Psaki said. "But I would just reiterate that we don't see this meeting as an opportunity to just talk about everything we agree on. We see this as a diplomatic opportunity for the United States, one that's in our national interests, which is to convey areas where we disagree, to have a conversation about concerns we have and also look for a more stable and predictable path forward."

Some Republican lawmakers have criticized Biden for moving forward with the summit given Putin's close ties to Lukashenko, and arguing doing so rewarded Putin for bad behavior.

But Psaki defended the decision, saying diplomacy is needed in strained relationships, too.

"Well, we may have forgotten over the last couple of years, but this is how diplomacy works. We don't work together -- we don't meet with people only when we agree. It's actually important to meet with leaders when we have a range of disagreements, as we do with Russian leaders. So we don't regard the meeting with the Russian president as a reward. We regard it as a vital part of defending America's interests," Psaki said.

After former President Donald Trump's unprecedented and secretive 2018 meeting with Putin in Helsinki when the leaders met alone with no aides present except for interpreters, Psaki was pressed to confirm whether other administration officials will remain in the room during the Geneva meeting.

"We certainly will provide readouts. I don't have anything on the format of the meeting but, as is standard, there typically is a -- a representation from both sides," Psaki said, leaving open-ended the question on who else will be present.

Psaki also offered a broader preview of the summit, saying items on the agenda include arms control and the extension of the New START Treaty, cybersecurity, America's support for Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity, as well as the incident in Belarus.

In April, the United States announced a sweeping series of sanctions against Russia over election interference, cyber hacking and other "harmful foreign activities," it said, including reports of Russia offering "bounties" for Taliban attacks against U.S. troops, and Russia's occupation and alleged human rights abuses in Crimea.

"Our objective here is not to escalate," Psaki said. "Our objective here is to impose costs for what we feel are unacceptable actions by the Russian government."

Psaki reiterated that the White House wanted there to be a "stable and predictable relationship" with Russia but conceded "this continues to be a difficult relationship" with "adversarial components."

After Biden announced the sanctions, Biden and Putin spoke on the phone, and Biden proposed a meeting in a third country.

ABC News' Patrick Reevell, Sarah Kolinovsky, Christine Theodorou and Justin Gomez contributed to this report.

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