US President Donald Trump will hold his first face-to-face with Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the G20 summit taking place in Germany on July 7 and 8, the White House confirmed Thursday.
U.S. National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster made the announcement at a White House briefing, adding that "there is no specific agenda".
There has been speculation that the two would meet at the event, but it wasn't solidified until McMaster's confirmation Thursday.
The meeting comes amid heightened tensions between the US and Russia over the situations in Ukraine and Syria, and with Trump casting new scrutiny on his predecessor, President Barack Obama, for not doing enough to counter Russian election meddling.
Reports about the resistance to Trump meeting Putin suggests that some are wanting to organize a formal meeting of the USA and Russian delegations, but without the two presidents involved.
The administration officials said that no decision has yet been made to return the compounds or ease sanctions, and that any such steps were unlikely to accompany Trump's meeting with Putin in Hamburg.
Trump has struck a tough tone on Russia's ally Syria, ordering a missile attack on a military base there in April after it reportedly was used to launch a chemical attack; and warning this week that the government of Bashar al-Assad would "pay a heavy price" if it carried out a new chemical attack.
The format for Trump and Putin's meeting at the G20 has not yet been set.
"As the president has made clear, he'd like the United States and the entire West to develop a more constructive relationship with Russian Federation but he has also made clear that we will do what is necessary to confront Russia's destabilizing behavior", McMaster said. Trump has staunchly denied that he had any contacts with Russian Federation during his White House bid.
All 17 USA intelligence agencies have agreed Russian Federation was behind last year's hack of Democratic email systems and tried to influence the 2016 election to benefit Trump.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has already warned "master of the deal" Trump that "Putin also knows how to negotiate, and does it always in the interest of Russia".
In the last days of his presidency, Obama ordered the expulsion of 35 Russian suspected spies and imposed sanctions on two Russian intelligence agencies over their involvement in hacking USA political groups in the 2016 election. The compounds were seized by the US government as part of sanctions in response to Russian active measures during the 2016 presidential campaign and other acts of Russian aggression. Those compounds, located in Maryland and outside New York City, were seized by the United States as part of a larger sanctions package authorized by then-President Barack Obama to punish Russian Federation for the election meddling.
That is an important distinction, since a formal bilateral meeting would elevate the talks and signal improving ties between Moscow and Washington, while a pull-aside would indicate a lower status to the relationship. The Kremlin threatened "retaliatory measures" agains the US for the seizure of the compounds earlier this week.