ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Next month, President Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin will meet face to face in Geneva. The White House made the official announcement today after hinting at a summit between the two leaders for several weeks. This comes as new tensions have emerged with Russia. NPR White House correspondent Scott Detrow is here to talk about what this means.
SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Hey. Good afternoon.
SHAPIRO: What more can you tell us about the summit?
DETROW: Well, like you said, it's in Geneva. It's June 16. Geneva is, of course, a symbolic spot with a long history of international talks. It is where Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev held their first face-to-face summit and began what became a productive relationship despite enormous differences. You know, no one at the White House expects the kind of talks that those two had, and the White House is already downplaying expectations a little bit. But they're saying this is a first step at reestablishing a working relationship and beginning to sort through a lot of different issues. And the White House is also making it clear this is not a sign the U.S. is ready to have a sunnier relationship with Vladimir Putin. In fact, at the briefing today, Press Secretary Jen Psaki was asked several times, is this some sort of reward for Putin? And Psaki argued presidents need to meet with people they disagree with, not just close allies.
SHAPIRO: So what's on the list of things that they plan to talk about?
DETROW: A lot of things. A source familiar with planning said it is a wide range of areas, everything from climate change to nuclear arms control to Russian support for Belarus, which, of course, comes off the news this week of Belarus essentially forcing down an airliner in order to arrest a dissident. It's only one day of talks, but it seems like it's going to be a very packed schedule.
SHAPIRO: You know, the Biden administration is really talking up the fact that this is going to be a face-to-face meeting. How important is that, given that he's had a lot of Zoom meetings with world leaders?
DETROW: Yeah, it's pretty important for Biden. He is someone who throughout his career has argued over and over again that most things come down to one-on-one relationships. It is almost a running joke with the reporters who cover him how every time the president talks about China, he will mention the fact that he has spent hours and hours meeting in person with President Xi. And this lack of ability to do this in a COVID era has been a frustration for this administration. You know, there's also a view that establishing this in-person chemistry is disproportionately important for U.S.-Russia relationships. Angela Stent is a Russia expert at Georgetown University and was talking about this. She says, look. There's no huge economic relationship between the U.S. and Russia. It's a relationship that really boils down to the fact these are two countries with a lot of nuclear weapons and tension. So personal dynamics are really important in managing that.
ANGELA STENT: It's important to establish, at least at a minimum, some of these regularized channels again. And you really need the top leadership to get that going.
DETROW: And she says this is especially true on the Russian side, that American diplomats really see the difference in a response when Putin makes it clear he cares about a policy or a topic versus when he doesn't.
SHAPIRO: Anything else Biden's trying to get out of the summit other than just establishing that working relationship with Putin?
DETROW: Yeah, and like I mentioned, the White House is making it clear they don't expect huge announcements or deals. One thing they often talk about is creating a more stable and predictable relationship. I asked the former Obama administration ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul, about this. And notably, he was pretty skeptical that that is even possible.
MICHAEL MCFAUL: I admire that aspiration, but I think it's quite unrealistic because I don't think Putin himself is interested in a stable and predictable relationship. So I think they have to confront the possibility that it may be a different kind of relationship than that.
DETROW: The administration is still going to try, though. And one thing they point to is the fact that Biden made a point to call Putin ahead of those sanctions that he announced last month to say, look. We are sanctioning you. But in the same call, Biden invited Putin to the summit, and the White House sees just basic communication. You know, sanctions are still coming. There is still tension, but we are having a conversation about it as an improvement over where things were before.
SHAPIRO: That's NPR White House correspondent Scott Detrow.
DETROW: Sure thing.
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