Newspaper article International New York Times

Obama Will Meet with Russian Leader, Ending Long Lull

Newspaper article International New York Times

Obama Will Meet with Russian Leader, Ending Long Lull

Article excerpt

Officials indicated that President Obama agreed to meet in the hopes of using the opportunity to press the Russian leader on Ukraine and Syria.

In case anyone had doubt, the White House has wanted it known that it was President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia who asked to meet with President Obama, not the other way around.

Mr. Putin was not just eager for a meeting, said Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary, but in fact "desperate" for one.

The emphasis on who wanted to meet more underscored the sensitivities and risks of the meeting, which the White House announced on Thursday. Mr. Obama has not seen Mr. Putin in nearly a year, and the two have not had a formal sit-down meeting in more than two years, before Russia annexed Crimea and intervened in eastern Ukraine.

"It is fair for you to say that based on the repeated requests we've seen from the Russians, that they are quite interested in having a conversation with President Obama," Mr. Earnest said. Ultimately, Mr. Obama decided "that it was worth it at this point to engage with President Putin in a face-to-face meeting to see if the interests of the United States could be advanced."

The meeting, to be held in New York on Monday, where both will be attending the annual session of the United Nations General Assembly, presents a challenge to Mr. Obama. Aides said Mr. Obama would press Mr. Putin to live up to a cease-fire in Ukraine and test his intentions in Syria, where he has recently dispatched combat jets, tanks and other military equipment.

Officials said they hoped to explore a settlement of Syria's four- year civil war without leaving in power President Bashar al-Assad, a longtime Russian ally. But they said Mr. Putin's deployment to Syria seemed to be an effort to make himself a player again on the international stage and change the subject from his encroachment in Ukraine.

"It's a tough one for Obama," said Fiona Hill, a former national intelligence officer who has focused on Russia, now at the Brookings Institution. "He has to meet with him, given the circumstances. But it's not very clear what we're going to get out of it. …

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