WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States will not look for “deliverables” from Monday’s summit with Russia, stressing that talks will be “unstructured,” U.S. national security adviser John Bolton said on Sunday.
President Donald Trump and Russia President Vladimir Putin are set to meet on Monday in Helsinki, their first stand-alone meeting since Trump took office in January 2017.
Interviewed on ABC’S “This Week,” Bolton said the summit will start with a “direct one-on-one conversation” between Trump and Putin and what happens from there “will be determined by the two parties.”
A private meeting with Putin, without aides, has concerned some U.S. and European officials, who fear the Russian president may take advantage of the situation to continue to try and drive a wedge between the United States and its NATO allies.
Trump has suggested there likely will be few quantifiable results from the summit, telling CBS in an interview this weekend he is going into the meeting with “low expectations.”
The president has spent the weekend before the summit playing golf at his resort in Turnberry, Scotland.
Jon Huntsman, the U.S. ambassador to Russia, said in an interview with “Fox News Sunday” that it was critical that the parties not expect too much from the meeting.
“The very fact that we have our heads of state getting together for this kind of conversation is a big, big delivery,” Huntsman said.
At the summit, the two leaders were expected to discuss, among other things, nuclear proliferation and the conflict in Syria. Beyond that, Huntsman said it was “highly unlikely” that Trump will recognise Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea at the summit, but would not rule it out completely.
Trump has said he will raise the issue of Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election with Putin. But Trump has consistently resisted the suggestion that he confront Putin over the matter, saying Putin has repeatedly denied involvement.
On Friday, a federal grand jury charged 12 Russian intelligence officers with hacking Democratic computer networks in 2016, increasing pressure on Trump to raise the matter with Putin.
In the CBS interview, Trump appeared to lay blame for the hacking on the Obama administration and the Democratic Party, not Russia.
Bolton on Sunday said he found it “hard to believe” that Putin did not know about the Russian disruption efforts, given the alleged role of Russian intelligence officers.
But, he said, “that is one of the purposes of this meeting. . . so the president can see eye to eye with President Putin and ask him about it.”
The indictments have strengthened Trump’s hand heading into the summit, Bolton said.
“It shows that the justice system, the Department of Justice, are aware of these Russian efforts at election meddling,” he said. “The president can put this on the table and say this is a serious matter, we need to talk about it.”
Bolton was sceptical as to whether Trump would press Putin to extradite the 12 Russian agents to the United States, noting that the two countries do not have an extradition agreement.
“For the president to demand something that isn’t going to happen puts the president in a weak position,” Bolton said.
Reporting by James Oliphant; Additional reporting by Daphne Psaledakis and Lesley Wroughton; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Lisa Shumaker