Trump To Meet With Putin At G-20 Gathering Of World Leaders President Trump is scheduled to have a face-to-face with Vladimir Putin at the G-20 summit. Trump has said he'd like closer ties between the countries, but Russia is under fire for election meddling.

Amid Gathering Of World Leaders, Trump's Meeting With Putin Stands Out

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President Trump arrived in Poland this afternoon. Over the next few days, he'll go to a G-20 summit and meet world leaders. No meeting will be more scrutinized than Trump's sit-down with Russian President Vladimir Putin. It will be their first face-to-face since Trump took office. Trump has often said he'd like to see a closer relationship between the U.S. and Russia, but that has been complicated by Russia's meddling in last year's presidential election. NPR's Scott Horsley reports.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Throughout the presidential campaign, Trump routinely praised Putin as a strong leader, often contrasting him with President Obama. Here he is speaking to Bill O'Reilly on Fox News in 2015.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I think, in terms of leadership, he's getting an A, and our president is not doing so well.


HORSLEY: National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster says now that Trump's in office, he's pursued a two-track approach to Russia, looking for areas where the two countries can cooperate while also confronting the Russians for their bad behavior around the world. It's a mixed message, and Trump himself has tended to highlight the cooperative part. This is what he told reporters during a news conference back in February.


TRUMP: They're a very powerful nuclear country, and so are we. If we have a good relationship with Russia, believe me. That's a good thing, not a bad thing.

HORSLEY: Meanwhile, confronting the Russians has largely been left to others in the administration. After a chemical weapons strike in April by Russia's ally Syria, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson complained that U.S.-Russian relations had hit a low point. Trump retaliated for that attack by launching a volley of cruise missiles at a Syrian airbase, and Tillerson accused Russia of failing to enforce Syria's chemical weapons agreement.


REX TILLERSON: It is unclear whether Russia failed to take this obligation seriously, or Russia has been incompetent. But this distinction doesn't much matter to the dead.

HORSLEY: Russia also continues to draw international criticism for its occupation of Crimea, its ongoing interference in Ukraine and its political meddling in the U.S. and elsewhere. U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley told the House Foreign Affairs Committee last week the administration is not turning a blind eye to these offenses.


NIKKI HALEY: You've seen me bash Russia on Ukraine. You've seen me bash Russia on Syria. You've seen me call out Russia if we see any sort of wrongdoings by Russia. And yes, I do think Russia meddled in our elections. And yes, I have said that to the president.

HORSLEY: It's that last of course that makes Trump's meeting with Putin especially fraught. The president continues to challenge the conclusion of U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia interfered in the U.S. election to boost his chances. And he fired the FBI director who was investigating possible ties between Russia and the Trump campaign.

Trump was embarrassed the day after that firing when Russian photos leaked out of a chummy meeting held in the Oval Office with Russia's foreign minister. Steven Pifer, who oversaw Russian affairs in the National Security Council during the Clinton administration, says that makes the optics of this Putin meeting especially important.

STEVEN PIFER: It's not going to be good for the president standing back at home if the pictures that come out of that meeting have a smiling, jovial President Trump yucking it up with President Putin in the same way that you had the pictures come out of the Oval Office meeting between President Trump and Foreign Minister Lavrov.

HORSLEY: Many members of Congress want the administration to adopt a tougher stance on Russia. Last month the Senate voted overwhelmingly to impose new sanctions on Moscow and make it harder for the White House to relax existing penalties. Michael O'Hanlon of the Brookings Institution says even if Trump wants to forge a more cooperative relationship with Putin, political pressure in the U.S. leaves him little room to maneuver.

MICHAEL E. O'HANLON: Trump can't afford to really put out any new ideas that he and Putin could engage on because it's going to seem like he's just beholden to Putin or, you know, he's still in Putin's pocket or, you know, all the things that would be said in the U.S. context. So he's got to make a pretty firm statement in this meeting of being frustrated and angered by Russian behavior.

HORSLEY: In his February news conference, Trump acknowledged it might not be possible to build a better relationship with Russia. At the time, he blamed that not on Russia's conduct but rather the news media's.


TRUMP: The false, horrible fake reporting makes it much harder to make a deal with Russia.

HORSLEY: Deal or no, the world will be watching closely to see what comes of this first meeting between Trump and Putin. And this time, the White House won't leave it to a Russian photographer to paint the picture. Scott Horsley, NPR News, traveling with the president.

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