US report unveils what Putin may want from Trump at Helsinki meeting
Before U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin meet on Monday for their first official dialogue, a U.S. intelligence assessment has outlined for the U.S. president the areas where the two countries have competing interests, and where they could potentially find middle ground.
The intelligence report, according to sources who spoke to CNBC on the condition of anonymity, said the Russian leader may ask Trump to stay out of the conflict in Ukraine, to withdraw troops from eastern Syria, and to continue talks with North Korea.
Monday’s highly anticipated meeting takes place in the wake of a contentious NATO summit, and only days after the U.S. Justice Department charged 12 Russian intelligence officers with hacking Democrats in an attempt to interfere with the 2016 U.S. presidential election. That indictment includes the most detailed U.S. accusations yet that Moscow meddled in the election in favor of Trump.
What’s more, Trump has insisted the two leaders meet at the beginning of the summit without any aides present — stirring concerns that the former KGB officer will outflank his American counterpart.
Trump: ‘Certainly’ will ask about election hack
In an interview with CBS that aired on Sunday, Trump said he would “certainly” ask the Russians in Helsinki about the hacking before pivoting to the role his predecessor may have had in the matter.
“This was during the Obama administration,” Trump said. “They (Russians) were doing whatever it was during the Obama administration.”
Trump said he had not considered asking Putin for the extradition of the indicted agents to the United States to face the charges against them.
“I hadn’t thought of that,” he said.
Limits on both leaders
While it remains to be seen what Trump and Putin will — or won’t — agree to on Monday, one foreign policy expert noted that both parties are limited in making commitments to one another.
“A lot of the things they may want to agree to are not things that the United States or Russia can agree to on behalf of other people,” Olga Oliker, director of the Russia and Eurasia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told CNBC.
“Donald Trump may want to pledge that the United States is going to stay out of Ukraine … but you’ve got laws in place that Congress has passed and that Trump has signed,” Oliker explained.
She added that the Minsk Agreements, signed by Russia and European powers in 2014 and 2015, call for Russia to first change its course in Ukraine if it wants an end to economic sanctions.
“So, Trump can’t unilaterally do this. Nor could he make a commitment on behalf of NATO not to enlarge (to include) Ukraine because there (are) a whole lot of members of that alliance that get a vote in all of this,” Oliker said. “To say nothing of the Ukrainians themselves, in that, they get a vote and Donald Trump can’t speak for them.”