London is concerned about a possible meeting between US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin ahead of a NATO summit in Brussels. Sputnik discussed the issue with Thomas Pickering, former US ambassador to Russia, undersecretary of state for political affairs and ex-ambassador to the UN, India, Israel and Jordan.
Sputnik: What is your assessment of US-Russia relations at the moment?
Thomas Pickering: Very challenging and very difficult and to some extent this possible summit meeting, which is now seemingly on, would be a good opportunity to see if we could change the direction and indeed the pace that the US-Russia relationship is now deteriorating, and should be shifted.
Sputnik: What is Donald Trump’s mood and the mood of the Trump administration, going into this meeting?
Thomas Pickering: I think he comes off the Singapore summit with a little sense of accomplishment; not a great deal, because the notion that North Korea was going to give up nuclear weapons right away was certainly put aside at Singapore, and it’s going to be a long and hard slog; but I think in his personal sense of gratification at what he is doing – I think that’s made him once again turn to President Putin and see if there is something that can be done there. […]
Sputnik: What kind of goal does Trump have for an outcome that he would like to see coming out of this meeting?
Thomas Pickering: Mr. Trump is very difficult to predict; but I would suspect North Korea’s still high on the agenda, and nuclear weapons, and appropriate procedures to continue to reduce those and indeed, to strengthen the stability of the nuclear deterrence are very high on everybody else’s agenda, and they ought to be high on the agenda of the two leaders. Neither of them wants to have some kind of nuclear blow-up by accident, misperception or miscommunication; and starting a process — the two of them are dealing with that problem now – would be really important and a real step forward.
Sputnik: During the G7 meeting, which was the most divisive G7 that we’ve seen in many, many years […] Trump called for Russian inclusion during that meeting. I think Russia didn’t have a very enthusiastic response to that, saying that they were more interested in other formats; but nonetheless, Trump said that he would like to see Russia included in that – what do you make of that?
Thomas Pickering: Well I think Mr. Trump has, in a way, some sense that…if he thinks he can flatter somebody who has been a potentially difficult negotiating partner, he will try it. And this is where I think this particular issue comes in. I think he entirely misjudged the situation. It set the teeth on edge of the G6; it didn’t produce useful responses from the American public; and on top of it, Russian official statements were quite negative about it, all of which indicates that one of Trump’s great problems is understanding of foreign policy, his disability to know something of the history, which he seems completely to ignore, and as a result, from time to time falling into mantraps and pitfalls that he was entirely unaware of.