The White House is defending President Joe Biden’s upcoming meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Geneva next week, saying it’s “vital” to protecting America’s interests.
“At the end of the day, what we are looking to do is for the two Presidents to be able to send a clear signal … to their teams on questions of strategic stability so we can make progress on arms control and other nuclear areas to reduce tension and instability in that aspect of their relationship,” White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said during Monday’s White House press briefing.
However, Sullivan seemed to lower expectations for the summit, telling reporters that “if you are going to wait for really significant deliverables, you could be waiting for a long time, conceivably.”
Earlier Monday, Biden held a call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, extending an invitation to visit the White House in July that appeared to spike Zelensky’s request to meet ahead of next week’s Putin summit.
Zelensky also told reporters last week that he felt the lift on US sanctions against Russia’s Nord Stream 2 pipeline would be a victory for Russia and a personal loss for Biden.
Sullivan said that the US focus during the Putin summit is to “give us an opportunity to communicate from our President to their President what American’s intentions and capabilities are and to hear the same from their side.” He also defended the timing of the summit, saying it would be difficult to find a better context for a meeting with Putin then after the G7 and NATO summits.
Sullivan also underscored the importance of Biden’s direct, in-person communication with Putin.
“(B)eing able to look President Putin in the eye and say, ‘This is what America’s expectations are. This is what America stands for. This is what America’s all about.’ This, we believe, is an essential aspect of US-Russian diplomacy,” Sullivan said. He explained that “Putin is a singular kind of personalized leader and having the opportunity to come together at a summit will allow us to manage this relationship and stand up and defend American values most effectively.”
Following a White House meeting late Monday afternoon, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said he and Biden agree on taking a dual track approach to Russia. He also said he’s glad Biden is meeting with the NATO allies prior to his meeting with Putin.
“Dialogue with Russia is not a sign of weakness … and we need to talk to Russia, partly to strive for a better relationship. But even if we don’t believe in a better relationship with Russia, we need to manage a difficult relationship with Russia,” Stoltenberg told reporters outside the West Wing.
Biden is slated to meet with about 35 world leaders during his tour through Europe, Sullivan said.
Biden has previously discussed one of his past in-person interactions with Putin as being an opportunity for blunt, direct messaging. In an interview with ABC last March, Biden was asked about a 2011 interaction with Putin, in which Biden claimed he told the Russian President he didn’t think Putin had a soul. Putin’s response, Biden has recalled, was to say, “We understand one another.”
“Look, most important thing dealing with foreign leaders, and I’ve dealt with a lot of them over my career, is just know the other guy,” Biden told ABC.
The President also said during the interview that he thought Putin was “a killer,” sparking a back-and-forth between the White House and the Kremlin.
This story has been updated with comments from NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.
CNN’s Jason Hoffman contributed to this report.