- The Washington Times - Friday, July 7, 2017

With a hearty handshake and broad smiles, President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin greeted each other face-to-face for the first time Friday at the G-20 summit in Hamburg, Germany.

The two leaders will sit down together later Friday for a highly anticipated meeting overshadowed by Russia’s interference in the U.S. presidential election last year and Democrats’ unsubstantiated allegations of Trump campaign collusion.

When the two leaders greeted each with a handshake at the G-20 gathering, Mr. Trump reached across with his left hand to pat Mr. Putin’s elbow during the handshake. The image went viral.

While the sit-down on the G-20 sidelines is their first face-to-face encounter, they have spoken by phone three times since Mr. Trump took office, according to the White House.

The White House said there was not set agenda for the meeting. Likely topics for the meeting include the election meddling, the Syria civil war in which the U.S. and Russia support opposing sides, Russia’s annexation of Crimea, and the fight against the Islamic State group and radical Islamic terrorism.

“Much to discuss,” Trump tweeted in advance of the meeting.

Mr. Trump and Mr. Putin will be joined at the meeting by U.S. Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, said the White House.

U.S. lawmakers and federal investigators continue to look into Russia’s election interference, along with possible collusion between Trump campaign officials and Russian government officials. That puts Mr. Trump under intense scrutiny over how he handles the sit-down with Mr. Putin, a former Russian intelligence agent.

Heading into the meeting, Mr. Trump sharpened the lines of division between Washington and Moscow, criticizing Russia’s military actions in Ukraine and Syria and praising NATO for its vital role in defending Europe against aggression.

Mr. Trump, who likes to have neatly packaged achievements to pair with high-profile meetings, may seek some concessions from Russia to show he’s delivering progress and helping restore a once-productive relationship that he recently described as being at an “all-time low.”

Mr. Putin would almost certainly want something in return.

The list of issues ranges from Syria to Iran to Ukraine, and now North Korea, following Pyongyang’s test this week of a missile capable of striking the U.S.

Russia wants the U.S. to return the two compounds in New York and Maryland that were seized by the Obama administration as punishment for election meddling. It also wants the U.S. to ease sanctions it imposed on Russia after Mr. Putin annexed the Crimean Peninsula, and over Russia’s support of separatist elements in Ukraine.

The U.S. wants a resumption of adoptions of Russian children by American parents, which Russia banned in 2012, along with an end to what it claims is intensifying harassment of U.S. diplomats and other officials stationed in Russia.

Lawmakers in both political parties say Mr. Trump must confront Mr. Putin over the election.

Several senior Democratic U.S. senators served notice Thursday that Trump would be in “severe dereliction” of his presidential duty if he fails to confront Mr. Putin over the issue, telling Mr. Trump in a letter that he must make clear that Russia’s interference in U.S. democracy will not be tolerated.

“The upcoming elections cannot be a playground for President Putin,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck E. Schumer of New York; Dick Durbin of Illinois, the Senate’s No. 2 Democrat; and the top Democrats on the Intelligence, Armed Services, and Foreign Relations committees.

Rep. Adam Kinzinger, Illinois Republican and a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said this week that he will “raise holy hell” if Mr. Trump goes soft on Mr. Putin.

“It is very important for us to make a statement that Russia does not meddle not just in our elections, here and the future, but in our allies,” Mr. Kinzinger said.

Every detail of the Trump-Putin meeting will be scrutinized, from their facial expressions to the color of their neckties to how they shake hands.

“The big thing to watch will be what Mr. Putin asks for and what he offers in return and whether there’s a sense of receptivity on the president’s part,” said Derek Chollet, executive vice president and senior adviser for security and defense policy at the German Marshall Fund, a Washington think tank.

Before meeting with Mr. Putin, Mr. Trump will try to manage another rocky international relationship when he meets with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto.

Mr. Pena Nieto had been scheduled to visit the White House shortly after Mr. Trump took office, but he scrapped the trip at the last minute due to disagreement with Mr. Trump over the U.S. president’s insistence that Mexico pay for the wall he has vowed to build along the U.S.-Mexico border to deter illegal immigration.

Mr. Pena Nieto insists Mexico will not pay.

Mr. Trump has vowed to tighten border security and crack down on undocumented workers and drug cartels, but he has been less firm on getting Mexico to pay for the wall.

He reassured Mr. Pena Nieto in April that he would not pull out of the North American Free Trade Agreement, which involves the U.S., Mexico and Canada. But Mr. Trump said he could still withdraw if he concludes that a renegotiated pact would not produce “a fair deal” for all sides.

The Putin meeting is the highlight of a hectic, four-day European visit for Mr. Trump, who addressed thousands of Poles in an outdoor speech in Warsaw, Poland, on Thursday. He met in Germany with Chancellor Angela Merkel, the summit host, and had dinner with two Asian allies — Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and South Korean President Moon Jae-in — to discuss North Korea’s aggression.

The Group of 20 gathering of the world’s leading rich and developing nations is the first since Mr. Trump announced that the U.S. would withdraw from the Paris climate agreement, deeply disappointing Merkel and other U.S. allies who had hoped to maintain momentum in battling climate change. Even as Mr. Trump has said in vague terms he would like to renegotiate the Paris accord, European leaders have vowed to press forward.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.


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