WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden will hold a solo press conference following his summit in Switzerland with Russian President Vladimir Putin, avoiding what foreign policy experts warned could be a high-risk moment had he chosen to stand side-by-side with Putin while briefing the press.
“We expect this meeting to be candid and straightforward, and a solo press conference is the appropriate format to clearly communicate with the free press the topics that were raised in the meeting — both in terms of areas where we may agree and in areas where we have significant concerns,” said a White House official.
A key goal for the White House coming out of the meeting scheduled for Wednesday will be to convey that Biden delivered a strong message to Putin, in contrast to the chummy relationship former President Donald Trump projected after his first sit down with Putin, said a person familiar with the planning.
After Trump’s meeting in Helsinki, Finland, Trump chose to do a joint press conference with Putin where he said he trusted Putin’s word over that of the U.S. intelligence community with regard to Russia’s interference in the 2016 elections. The late Sen. John McCain blasted Trump’s comments at the time calling it “one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory,” and accusing Trump of being unable or unwilling to stand up to Putin.
It’s the type of a mistake the White House is seeking to avoid, said Michael McFaul, a former ambassador to Russia in the Obama administration,
“I think that's the right decision. I really do,” said McFaul, regarding the solo press conference. With a joint appearance, he said, “I think there is only upside for Putin, and [it's] only risky for President Biden.”
The White House officials also said there would be a smaller group and larger group meeting between Biden and Putin and didn’t indicate there would be a one-on-one sit down where neither leader would have his aides and advisers in the room.
The White House has said Biden plans to address a number of contentious issues with Putin, including cyber attacks linked to Russia, increasing Russian aggression towards Ukraine, human rights violations, and election interference. But they have also emphasized that they hope to cover issues the two countries can work together on, like nuclear arms control and climate change.
Biden will go into the meeting next week with Putin after several days of meetings with America’s closest allies, something White House officials said they hope will show Putin a united front to counter his malign behavior.