Ex-State Department Official Expects Russia-US Ties to Get Back on Track After Putin-Biden Summit

© REUTERS / Alexander NatruskinFILE PHOTO: Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin (R) shakes hands with U.S. Vice President Joe Biden during their meeting in Moscow March 10, 2011.
FILE PHOTO: Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin (R) shakes hands with U.S. Vice President Joe Biden during their meeting in Moscow March 10, 2011. - Sputnik International, 1920, 26.05.2021
WASHINGTON (Sputnik) - US President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin are expected to lay the groundwork for the normalisation of relations at their upcoming summit in Geneva, former US State Department Senior Foreign Service Officer and former UN Director of Counterterrorism Howard Stoffer told Sputnik.
"I think, you know, Russians, and Americans generally get along. But it's just we got to sort out all these issues now. And that's what I think this summit is going to be, the beginning step to do that", Stoffer, who is now an associate professor at the University of New Haven, told Sputnik. On Tuesday, the White House announced that the two leaders would hold a summit in Geneva on 16 June, in what will be their first in-person meeting since Biden took office.

He said he expected Russian-US relations to get better and recalled the good relationship he had with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and former Russian Ambassador to Washington Sergei Kislyak.

"I think fundamentally from all the years that I've worked with, you know, I worked with Lavrov and I've worked with Sergei Kislyak. I mean, I know all these people because when I knew them, they weren't where they are now. We all got along well. We basically liked each other", Stoffer said.

He told Sputnik that the upcoming Geneva summit is yet another chance for Washington and Moscow to pinpoint areas where some common ground can be found. This process was already initiated by Lavrov and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken at their first in-person meeting on the sidelines of the 12th Arctic Council Ministerial Meeting in Reykjavik, Iceland this month.

Commenting on the location choice for the Putin-Biden summit, Stoffer cautioned against reading too much into it.

"What's important is that they are meeting and they're not meeting in a place that would be prejudiced to one or other. They are not meeting in Paris and they are not meeting in Minsk, you know, they are meeting in a place that's sort of neutral and that's what's important", he told Sputnik.

The Kremlin expects that Putin and Biden will discuss issues such as strategic stability and the US-Russia relationship itself at the upcoming Geneva talks. The White House said that Ukraine, Belarus, the New START, and Iran would be on the agenda.

"The purpose of these meetings is to just understand each other and see how much we can agree on and then make some breakthroughs", Stoffer told Sputnik, adding that "we're not moving to confrontation. And that's the most important thing in a world where nuclear weapons can still kill everybody".

Earlier this month, Lavrov praised Blinken's constructive approach at the recent negotiations in Reykjavik and said that Russia and the United States, as the two largest nuclear powers, have a special responsibility for maintaining strategic stability and international security. Without a full-fledged Russian-US dialogue, it would be very difficult for the global community to face cross-border challenges and threats, and to settle regional conflicts, Lavrov said.

Prospects of Future Meetings

Asked about the prospects of future top-level Russia-US meetings, Stoffer said that he expected Putin and Biden to meet at the G20 and sometime in early 2022.

"... it might be that they agree to meet again outside of the G20, you know, to meet again in six months or in a year and let their foreign ministers work that out or maybe meet in New York in September, if the General Assembly can have a general meeting of heads of state in mid-September, then maybe that would be an opportunity for them to meet briefly again in New York and follow up on whatever they're talking about now in June. And then maybe say, well, we'll leave open bilateral meetings", Stoffer told Sputnik.

He said that if some kind of momentum towards cooperation and reducing tensions is achieved following the Geneva summit, "then it may be possible for Russia to rejoin the G7 and become the G8 again".

Stoffer emphasised that top-level meetings between Russia and the US are essential because expert and mid-level talks, or even meetings between foreign ministers or defence ministers, cannot cover everything.

"And that's one thing that the presidents of the two countries, they could discuss everything and anything. And because they are in touch with other leaders, it's possible that there's an understanding that they can reach some kind of accommodation and some kind of desire for reducing tensions. Then the whole world will be better off", Stoffer told Sputnik.

He emphasised that there is a difference between Washington’s approach toward Russia now, in comparison to the former administration of Donald Trump.

"We go back to a normal kind of discussion. Trump was not an expert in diplomatic exchanges. And I think Biden has been around a long time. Putin has been around a long time. They understand each other. They're not brand new. And it's important for them to just see each other again as the leaders", Stoffer said.

Earlier this month, White House spokesperson Jen Psaki said that Biden believed that a meeting with Putin would be a positive step forward in US-Russia bilateral relations to both ease tensions and have more stable ties.

Talks on Israeli-Palestinian Tensions

US President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin could discuss the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at the upcoming summit in Geneva with the aim of promoting stability in the region, Stoffer believes.

"... it might be possible for the Russians and the Americans to urge the Israelis and Palestinians to keep things calm, to not have another round of conflict", Stoffer said.

He told Sputnik that there will be no solution to the Israeli-Palestinian issue now, but some things can be done to improve stability in the region.

"You need younger people who think about the future and want to reach an accommodation. But maybe the Russians and the Americans can urge the two sides to reach a better understanding to maintain stability, to maintain a truce that the Israelis should have some methods of having their checkpoints being less invasive against the Palestinians on the West Bank and for allowing maybe more goods to get into and out of Gaza through Israel", Stoffer explained.

He told Sputnik that since Washington does not have communication channels with Hamas, Russia could step in to facilitate some improvements from that side.

"Russians could also push for having the Gazans - because we don't talk to the Gazan regime, the Hamas, we don't talk to Hamas - to at least see if it's possible to make things better and help rebuilding, because Biden has promised to help with the rebuilding of Gaza from the last 10 days", Stoffer said.

Clashes in East Jerusalem in early May led to the worst violence between Israel and Palestinians in the Gaza Strip in recent years. Palestinian militants launched several thousand rockets toward Israel. In response, Israel fired retaliatory strikes against Gaza. In Israel, 12 people were killed and over 50 were seriously wounded during the hostilities. The death toll among Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, Jerusalem, and the West Bank topped 270.

Last week, Israel and Hamas agreed to an Egypt-brokered ceasefire.

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