U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin are set to size each other up in person for the first time on Friday in what promises to be the most highly-anticipated meeting on the sidelines of the G20 summit.
Trump has said he wants to find ways to work with Putin, a goal made more difficult by sharp differences over Russia’s actions in Syria and Ukraine, and allegations Moscow meddled in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
That means every facial expression and physical gesture will be analyzed as much as any words the two leaders utter as the world tries to read how well Trump, a real estate magnate and former reality television star, gets along with Putin, a former spy.
The fear is that the Republican president, a political novice whose team is still developing its Russia policy, will be less prepared than Putin, who has dealt with the past two U.S. presidents and scores of other world leaders.
Ahead of Trump’s meeting with Putin, three U.S. senators wrote to Trump to express “deep concern” about reports that his administration planned to discuss the return to Russia of diplomatic compounds in Maryland and New York that were seized by the Obama administration last year in response to alleged Russian election meddling.
Republican Senators Johnny Isakson and Marco Rubio and Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen said returning the facilities would “embolden” Putin and encourage further efforts by Russia to interfere in Western elections. All three are on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
The White House declined to offer details on what Trump would request of Putin and what he might offer in exchange for cooperation.
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Trump wanted to talk about how the two countries can work together to stabilize war-ravaged Syria.