Former US ambassador to Russia lays out what Trump needs to discuss with Putin in their blockbuster meeting

Vladimir PutinPool/Getty ImagesVladimir Putin.

A former US ambassador to Russia laid out what President Donald Trump needs to discuss with Russian President Vladimir Putin when the two meet later at the G-20 summit in Germany.

Michael McFaul, who served as ambassador to Russia in from 2012 to 2014, listed in a Washington Post column what he believes to be the most crucial discussion points Trump must address with his Russian counterpart in the highly-anticipated meeting.

“Putin is a very experienced, effective interlocutor,” McFaul wrote to Trump. “He will come prepared for this meeting, seeking first to convince you that you both can work together, against common foes such as the ‘deep state’ and ‘American fake news.’ Putin wants the readout of this meeting to be ‘we had a very good meeting.’ Your objective is different.”

“Your goal is not a friendly chat — diplomacy is not a popularity contest — but a clear statement of US national security and economic objectives and an exploration of what issues the United States and Russia could pursue together,” he continued. “Don’t expect any breakthroughs in this first meeting. Your task is to demonstrate to Putin that you are a tough negotiator committed to pursuing American interests, and one that is not willing to offer concessions simply to win Putin’s praise.”

As The New York Times reported Wednesday, top aides are not entirely sure what Trump will decide to focus on and discuss during his first face-to-face meeting with Putin. Trump has at times lavished praise on Putin, and has on some occasions refused to criticise Russia’s longtime leader. He has also cast doubt on the veracity of the US intelligence that suggests Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election to help him and hurt his opponent, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.

Additionally, there is an investigation underway into whether any members of the Trump campaign colluded with Russian officials during the course of the election.

Russian interference in the 2016 election was the top issue McFaul said needed to be discussed.

“You must signal clearly to the Russian president that you know exactly what he did,” he wrote. “Leaving any doubt will communicate insecurity or ignorance. You must state bluntly to Putin that Russia can never again violate our sovereignty by stealing and publishing our data, and must stop cyber probes of our electoral machinery.”

“You should hint at potential coercive responses, including sanctions and counter cyber actions, if we are attacked again,” he continued. “You could pledge to not interfere in Russian elections. If the meeting is going well, you might suggest that our two governments should begin negotiations regarding new norms about cyber activities in our two countries, possibly resulting in a treaty.”

McFaul said Trump should also discuss Russia’s involvement in Ukraine — signalling that he wants to lift the sanctions but only after Russia ceases to support Ukrainian separatists and implements a peace agreement — in addition to trade, the conflict in Syria, North Korean aggression, Russia’s ban on adoptions by Americans, and the Middle East.

Some subjects should be avoided, he added. Those included NATO and human rights violations.

“This first meeting, therefore, is extremely important,” McFaul wrote. “It is up to you to set a tough but pragmatic tone for your interactions with the Russian president for the next four years.”

Read his full column here >

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