Atmosphere Is Tense At Biden-Putin Geneva Summit
LEILA FADEL, HOST:
There's a long list of thorny issues President Biden planned to raise in Geneva today about Russia's cyberhacking, election meddling, human rights abuses. And as this difficult conversation was about to begin, photographers were led into the room to capture the moment for the record.
NPR White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez is in the president's press pool today. And he joins us now. Hi, Franco.
FRANCO ORDOÑEZ, BYLINE: Hey, Leila. How are you?
FADEL: I'm doing OK. How are you?
ORDOÑEZ: Well, it's been crazy.
FADEL: (Laughter) So we were watching the scene live on television. And as you said, it sounded pretty crazy. Can you describe for us what was happening on the ground, the part we couldn't see on TV?
ORDOÑEZ: Yeah. There really was a lot going on. You know, once the leaders shook hands and went inside, reporters headed for a side door where the press was to go in after. But we were stopped, you know, stopped by U.S. and Russian officials. There was a lot of yelling. There was a lot of shoving as they tried to get both press corps lined up. And here's a little taste of what it was like.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Go back. Get down. Get down.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Go back, please.
ORDOÑEZ: You know, for example, when a U.S. official tried to pull me forward, another much larger non-U.S. security agent grabbed me and kind of threw me back a bit. You know, eventually a few of us - the U.S. reporters - excuse me - we're able to get in just as the photo op was ending. And, I should say, there is often some jostling to get into these kind of things, even at the Oval Office. But this was much more physical and disorganized than usual.
FADEL: Well, that does not sound fun. Now, you've been traveling with the president in Europe all week as he meet - as he met leaders. How does the atmosphere at this summit compare to earlier summits he had this week?
ORDOÑEZ: Yeah. You know, we came to Geneva after meetings in Brussels and the G-7 in Cornwall, England. Here in Geneva, it's been a lot more tense than the other places.
ORDOÑEZ: And you can see that from the images of the two leaders at the start of the meeting. You know, President Biden was smiling. And he shook hands. But it was nothing like the exchanges, you know, I saw earlier this week, especially in England. You know, just take the time Biden spent with French President Emmanuel Macron, which was particularly warm and friendly, you know, the same at NATO. The leaders were very happy to be with Biden, you know, because they wanted to cooperate.
But this meeting was much more stiff right from the start. And with Putin, you can see kind of the body language that he's known for, for example, that trademark slouch as he sat with Biden during the photo op. But there's also, you know, a lot of anticipation here in Geneva. This is the moment, you know, that this first trip, you know, really has been building toward.
FADEL: So it sounds like a very different atmosphere today. What have you been hearing from White House officials you're talking to about what they hope happens at the summit today?
ORDOÑEZ: Well, I'll just note that the president himself has made clear that he hopes this meeting leads to some agreement on issues that they can cooperate on. But he has also said that he clearly wants to lay down some red lines for Putin. You know, he's talking about, you know - you know, all week officials, though, have been downplaying the expectations for any big deals. And this meeting, you know, has gone on for a couple hours and has more to go. And we'll see what President Biden has to say during the press conference. And that's later today.
FADEL: NPR's Franco Ordoñez in Geneva. Thank you so much.
ORDOÑEZ: Thank you.
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