- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 24, 2015

President Obama will meet one-on-one with Russian President Vladimir Putin during the latter’s trip in New York next week to address the United Nations General Assembly, the White House has confirmed.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest stressed that the meeting will take place at Mr. Putin’s request and said Mr. Obama considers the top item on the agenda to be the conflict in Ukraine.

“President Putin requested the meeting and I think at this point, considering the significant concerns I’ve just raised, I think it makes sense for President Obama to sit down with his counterpart and see if he can get some greater clarity about Russia’s intentions inside Ukraine,” Mr. Earnest said.

Russian officials have said the meeting will take place Monday in New York, but Mr. Earnest said the exact date and time have not been hammered out.

But there has been much speculation that Mr. Obama will take the opportunity to discuss Russia’s military buildup in Syria with Mr. Putin. The Kremlin’s actions in the region have drawn concern from U.S. leaders who are anxious that Moscow will lend troops to support the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

“Given the situations in Ukraine and Syria, despite our profound differences with Moscow, the president believes that it would be irresponsible not to test whether we can make progress through high-level engagement with the Russians,” a senior administration official said, NPR reported.

“In particular, our European partners have underscored the importance of a unified message about the necessity of fully implementing the Minsk agreements,” the official said, referring to the 2014 agreement between Russia, Ukraine, the Donetsk People’s Republic and the Lugansk People’s Republic to halt the war in the Donbass region of Ukraine.

“President Obama will take advantage of this meeting to discuss Ukraine, and he will be focused on ensuring Moscow lives up to the Minsk commitments. This will be the core message of this bilateral engagement,” the official said, NPR reported.

Mr. Obama’s diplomatic communications with Mr. Putin have been limited since Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014.

Ben Wolfgang contributed to this report.

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