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Presidents Biden And Putin Are Unlikely To See Eye-To-Eye At Geneva Summit


A high-stakes meeting in Geneva is officially underway. That's where President Biden is meeting with Russian President Putin for the first time since taking office. As the two sat down, President Biden said, it's always better to meet face to face and that he hoped they could agree on areas where they could cooperate. Putin said he hoped the meeting would be productive. The summit comes at an especially fraught moment in the relationship between the U.S. and Russia. There's the issue of cyberattacks, election interference, concerns over Russia's human rights violations and the ongoing troop buildup along its border.

All Things Considered host Mary Louise Kelly is in Geneva covering the summit. And she joins us on the line now. Hi, Mary Louise.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, BYLINE: Hey. Good morning, Leila.

FADEL: Good morning. So set the scene for us there in Geneva. What was the atmosphere like as this highly anticipated meeting got started?

KELLY: Well, to everyone's surprise, it has gotten started pretty much on time.

FADEL: (Laughter).

KELLY: The motorcades rolled up. They entered the gates to Villa La Grange, which is this beautiful looking villa, at least what we can glimpse from across the park here. We're about a couple hundred yards away. It is barricaded. But the presidents went inside. And we were able to see them shake hands. Biden turned to the cameras and smiled. They went inside. The doors closed.

And then we know that they have sat down. We got a little bit of a live feed from inside where they were seated in a library with their top foreign policy advisers, Antony Blinken there for the United States, and Sergey Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, the four men seated in what looked like a beautiful library in this 18th-century villa, a globe strategically positioned between Putin and Biden. And they were chitchatting for the cameras, smiled. We were treated to a little bit of that and the opening comments that you just cited, that they hope that they can find ways and places where they can cooperate.

And now the talks are underway. We wait to see how long they will go. The initial thinking is that they could go four or five hours in a number of sessions but could go longer. There's no time limit on this. If it all falls apart, they (laughter) could wrap more quickly than that. So we don't know.

FADEL: So we may know more about what was discussed in a few hours. Now, you covered the last U.S.-Russia summit just a few years ago in Helsinki. That was...

KELLY: I did.

FADEL: ...A different president. So does this summit feel significantly different to you than that?

KELLY: Well, the drama and the stakes of any U.S.-Russia summit are always going to be high. But, certainly, while on the Russian side, you have the same delegation, pretty much, from President Putin down, the same delegation that was in Helsinki, the U.S. team is totally different. President Biden is indeed a very different president. He has signaled he wants to cut the drama. He wants a stable, predictable relationship. That is the term that White House officials keep saying they want to define the relationship going forward and to set that tone here in Geneva today. You know, the question is how Biden will hold Putin to account in a way that former President...

FADEL: Right.

KELLY: ...Trump did not on cyberattacks, on election interference. Biden's going to tell Putin, knock it off. And what we wait to see is any sign that President Putin is inclined to listen to that. Does the U.S. have leverage here? That's what we're waiting for in these separate press conferences, that at some point they will emerge from this villa and tell us a little bit of how the talks went down.

FADEL: All right. Mary Louise Kelly, host of All Things Considered, talking to us from Geneva, Switzerland, where President Biden is meeting with Russian President Putin today. Thank you, Mary Louise.

KELLY: You are welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
Mary Louise