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Trump will meet face-to-face with Putin in Germany next week

 (Alexei Nikolsky / Associated Press)
(Alexei Nikolsky / Associated Press)

President Trump has governed five months under a cloud of questions about his relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin, yet the two men will meet next week for the first time, on the sidelines of the G20 summit of world leaders in Hamburg, Germany.

White House officials on Thursday confirmed plans for the private meeting but said no decisions had been made about the topics Trump will raise. So it's unclear whether the men will discuss Russia's election-year cyberattacks that are the focus of criminal and congressional investigations.

"Our relationship with Russia is not different from any other country in terms of us communicating with them, really, what our concerns are, where we see problems in the relationship but also opportunities," said Trump's national security advisor, H.R. McMaster. 

McMaster said he expected the two men to have "a broad, wide-ranging discussion" about problems in the relationship but also about where the U.S. and Russia have "common interests."

"There's no specific agenda," McMaster said. "It's really going to be whatever the president wants to talk about," he added.

The White House has refused to say whether Trump would sign legislation with new sanctions on Russia for meddling in the elections by hacking, including into some states' voting systems, and by spreading false news stories.

But Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin indicated the existing restrictions against Russia were sufficient. "We've got plenty of those as well," Mnuchin said.

Trump will also meet with the leaders of China, Germany, Japan, South Korea, Mexico, Indonesia, Singapore and other countries during the summit of 20 major world economies.

Trump's director of the White House National Economic Council, Gary Cohn, said the meeting would fall short of a typical "bilateral" discussion between the American president and the head of another country, but would be more than what's known in diplomacy-speak as a "pull aside" — a quick, informal get-together on the edge of a conference. 

Trump's scheduled meeting with Putin in Hamburg places added significance on his stop in Poland next Wednesday.

In Warsaw,  McMaster said, Trump intends to bolster U.S. relationships with Poland and other central European and Baltic states that were once in Moscow's orbit under the Soviet Union, but now rely on the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the U.S. to counter pressure from Russia. Trump's meetings there seem designed to strengthen his hand with Putin. 

McMaster called Poland "a front-line NATO nation with regards to the eastern flank," noting that it sent troops to fight alongside the U.S. in Afghanistan and Iraq and has exceeded its pledge on NATO defense spending.  As a candidate and president, Trump has criticized other NATO countries that have not yet met those pledges for military spending equal to at least 2% of the size of their respective economies.

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