Jul 6, 2017

How Clinton, Bush and Obama handled their first Putin meetings

Haraz N. Ghanbari / AP

On Friday in Hamburg, Donald Trump will become the fourth U.S. president to meet with Vladimir Putin since he assumed power in 2000. The most pressing issues on the table include Russian interference in the U.S. election, Putin's support for the Syrian regime and potential areas of cooperation, including on terrorism.

A look at Putin's first meetings with Trump's predecessors:

Bill Clinton — Moscow, June 2000

The Issues: nuclear arms control, conflicts in the Balkans and North Caucasus

The Tone: "Businesslike", "congenial", "easygoing", per the NYT. The meeting came less than a month after Putin was inaugurated as president. They'd met twice the year before when Putin was prime minister.

The Color: "They dined over cold boiled boar, baked ham and cabbage and goose with berry sauce"

State of the relationship: Clinton: "We are not destined to be adversaries, but it is not guaranteed that we will be allies."

George W. Bush — Ljubljana, Slovenia, June 2001

The Issues: U.S. construction of a missile shield and the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty of 1972. Earlier in his European trip, Bush advocated for the Baltic states to join NATO — which Russia vigorously opposed.

The Tone: Warm — too warm, according to critics. Putin accepted an invitation to visit Washington and Bush accepted an invitation to Russia.

The Color: Bush was taken with the site of the meeting: "I would urge people looking for a good vacation spot to come here."

State of the relationship: Bush: "I looked the man in the eye. I found him to be very straight forward...I was able to get a sense of his soul."

Barack Obama — Nova Ogaryovo, Russia, July 2009

The Issues: Nuclear disarmament, U.S. missile defense shield, Russo-Georgian conflict

The Tone: Amicable and cooperative. After saying earlier in his trip that Putin has "one foot in the old ways of doing business," Obama left the meeting "very convinced the prime minister is a man of today and he's got his eyes firmly on the future."

The Color: They met in Putin's home in the country. Per the NYT: "Their breakfast ran two hours, and Mr. Putin spent the first half in a virtually uninterrupted monologue about Russia's view of the world."

State of the relationship: Obama: "I'm aware of not only the extraordinary work that you've done on behalf of the Russian people...as president, but in your current role as prime minister." ... "We think there's an excellent opportunity to put U.S.-Russian relations on a much stronger footing."

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