The jockeying over who invited whom illustrated the delicacy of the meeting at a time of great tension between the United States and Russia.
WASHINGTON — Who asked whom to the prom? Let’s put it this way: This date has not even started, and it is not going well.
After Obama administration officials said Thursday that President Obama and President Vladimir Putin of Russia would meet Monday in New York, Obama’s spokesman, Josh Earnest, emphasized that it was Russia that had wanted the meeting. In fact, Earnest insisted, Putin was “desperate” for it.
The government in Moscow denied that Friday.
“Statements by Josh Earnest that Putin was very interested in this meeting and repeatedly asked for it are not true,” said Yuri Ushakov, a top foreign-policy adviser to Putin, according to the official Tass news agency.
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Ushakov said the Obama administration had sent a proposal Sept. 19 for a meeting, suggesting two possible dates, Monday or Tuesday. The Russians opted for the first, when Putin would be in New York for the U.N. General Assembly gathering.
“We do not refuse contacts that are proposed,” Ushakov said. “We support maintaining constant dialogue at the highest level.” As such, he said, the “Americans knew that if President Obama wants to hold a working meeting in New York and proposes to hold it, we will hardly refuse.”
The jockeying over who invited whom illustrated the delicacy of the meeting at a time of great tension between the United States and Russia over the conflicts in Ukraine and Syria.
Obama, who has refused to have a formal sit-down meeting with Putin for more than two years because of Russia’s intervention in Ukraine and other disputes, does not want to look eager to see a man he has criticized. In recent weeks, some aides have expressed wariness about a meeting because they said Putin might use it to vindicate his actions and present himself as an important player in world affairs.
The Russians, despite Ushakov’s statement, have been fishing for an invitation for more than a month.
“If there is such a proposal from their side, I think our president will consider it constructively,” Sergey Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, said Aug. 19.
Whoever wanted the date first, it’s on for Monday. At least for now.