MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Tomorrow will be an historic day - the first summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin. The meeting will take place in Helsinki, Finland. Of course, this summit is highly unusual for any number of reasons. Normally, such meetings are tightly choreographed with a clear sense of what both sides hope to accomplish. But Mr. Trump has said he envisions a, quote-unquote, loose meeting with the goal of establishing a relationship with Putin. As he put it the other day, hopefully, someday, maybe he'll be a friend.
And it's taking place just days after a U.S. grand jury indicted 12 Russian intelligence officers for hacking the Democratic Party. Mr. Trump was asked on CBS today if he will ask Mr. Putin for the extradition. This is what he said.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Well, I might. I hadn't thought of that, but I - certainly I'll be asking about it.
MARTIN: We wanted to talk about what we might expect from the Trump-Putin summit, so we called someone who has had a hand in preparing another U.S. president to meet with Vladimir Putin. He is Thomas Graham. He served as top Russia adviser on President George W. Bush's National Security Council, and he helped prepare Mr. Bush for a prior summit.
Thank you so much for speaking with us.
THOMAS GRAHAM: You're certainly welcome.
MARTIN: First, I'm going to ask your opinion. Given Friday's indictments, should this meeting go forward?
GRAHAM: Yes, I think the meeting should go forward. I mean, the indictments provide some new details, but it doesn't really change the picture that we've already had of Russian interference in the presidential election. There are good reasons for having a meeting. I would prefer one that was somewhat more in the future so that it could be prepared properly. But these two countries are in an adversarial relationship now. There are a number of conflicts that, if not managed properly, could spin out of control and lead to a conflict that neither side wants. And we need to remember that, you know, these are still the two countries with the world's largest nuclear arsenals.
MARTIN: How do you think the president should address Russia's attempts to interfere with the elections? Mr. Trump has said he would raise it. He expects Mr. Putin to deny it. And then, this morning, he - I think it's fair to say he blamed the Democratic Party for the hacking, saying that they should have had better defenses. So what do you think Mr. Trump should do?
GRAHAM: The president is absolutely right that President Putin will continue to deny that the Russians had anything to do with the hacking or interfering in the election. So it's a very straightforward conversation. It's the president of the United States saying, we know what you did. The indictments on Friday indicate a small bit of what we know. We intend to defend the integrity of our political processes using all necessary means, and that means hitting back at countries that may be engaging in the interference. And we wanted you to know that, and we hope that Russia will refrain from interfering in the upcoming midterm elections.
MARTIN: There are concerns that Mr. Trump may be a bit outmatched. While it is true that he highly prizes his experience as a negotiator in the business world, Vladimir Putin has years of experience meeting with U.S. presidents. He has training as a KGB officer. Donald Trump is, in fact, a relative novice at international politics. Is there any possibility that damage could come from this meeting?
GRAHAM: Well, I mean, there's always the possibility for damage, but I think that comes this time more in expressions of friendship or promises of cooperation when they're not realistic in the current environment. You know, on other matters, there is very little that President Trump could do to damage U.S. interests in a practical way. Remember, he can't put sanctions on his own. Congress has to play a role in that. If he were to say something positive about Crimea as part of Russia, I'm pretty sure that, you know, on Tuesday, there would be a congressional vote overruling that in some fashion.
So I'm not really worried about that. I'm worried more about the overall atmosphere - presenting too friendly a picture at this point, I think, which would be disheartening to our allies in Europe and certainly would not play well in large parts of the American political establishment.
MARTIN: Well, you know, to that end, I mean, last week, President Trump at the NATO summit berated U.S. allies just this morning. In an interview with CBS, he called the European Union a foe in a certain respect - talking about trade relations. What do you make of that?
GRAHAM: Well, I mean, obviously, we have a difficult transatlantic relationship at this point. This is something that is greeted with a great deal of pleasure inside the Kremlin. They've been trying to do this. They want some disorder in the transatlantic community because that gives them - I think they believe - some room for maneuvering in dealing with some very difficult issues like the Ukraine crisis, like the sanctions issue and so forth. If I were the president of the United States, I would be playing up the statement that came out of NATO this past week that I think is very strong indicating allied cohesion and unity and solidarity in dealing with the challenge that Russia poses at this point.
MARTIN: That's former diplomat Thomas Graham. He's now managing director at Kissinger Associates.
Mr. Graham, thanks so much for speaking with us.
GRAHAM: Thank you. You're certainly welcome.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.