Trump’s One-on-One Talks With Putin to Include Election Meddling, Ambassador Says

(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump is prepared to discuss Russian election meddling and other “malign” activities when he meets one-on-one with President Vladimir Putin later this month, the U.S. ambassador to Russia said.

Trump will enter the July 16 meeting in Helsinki with “eyes wide open” to assess whether Putin wants to improve relations, Ambassador Jon Huntsman said Thursday on a conference call with reporters.

“You can’t solve problems if you are not talking about them,” said Huntsman. While Trump wants to improve relations, “the ball is in Russia’s court and the administration will continue to hold Russia accountable for its malign activities,” he added.

Trump has frequently called the Justice Department’s investigation into possible collusion between his campaign and Russia in the 2016 elections a “witch hunt,” and he repeated Putin’s denial that Moscow interfered in the 2016 election last week in a tweet. Days later, the Senate Intelligence Committee affirmed findings last year by the U.S. intelligence community that Putin ordered an influence campaign aimed at aiding Trump’s candidacy.

The summit will include a one-on-one sit down followed by an expanded bilateral meeting with advisers and a working lunch. The White House isn’t planning any specific actions to come out of the meeting, though it is possible there will be some concrete agreements reached, an administration official said. The person requested anonymity to discuss expectations for the meeting.

Trump also plans to discuss Russia’s actions in Ukraine and a possible resolution of the conflict in Syria, the official said. The two leaders may also discuss extending a nuclear weapons reduction treaty negotiated by Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, called New START.

The meeting with Putin will follow Trump’s participation in an annual NATO summit, where Russian aggression is expected to be a top item on the agenda. The official said Trump does not plan to raise the idea of reducing U.S. troop levels in Germany in the NATO talks. The Washington Post reported last week that the Pentagon is assessing the cost and impact of removing U.S. forces from Germany, after Trump expressed interest in the idea.

The president has frequently complained that NATO allies -- especially Germany -- should contribute more toward their own defense, and he has a strained relationship with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.