US President Trump and Russian President Putin are due to have their first face-to-face meeting in Hamburg in a few days. This meeting should have taken place in April or May and, had that happened, by now the two would be well into substantive issues. But thanks to the devotion of the lügenpresse to the anti-Russia tarradiddle, Trump was unable to move. And, exploded as a “nothingburger” it may be, and devoid of evidence as we are continually told it is, people are still banging away at it: “You must state bluntly to Putin that Russia can never again violate our sovereignty by stealing and publishing our data, and must stop cyber probes of our electoral machinery.”
So Trump may be wary that anything he does or says to Putin, short of outright rudeness or a punch in the face, will be spun as further “proof” that he is Putin’s puppy. Although – one can hope – Trump, empowered by his contempt for the fake news media and emboldened by CNN’s troubles, may ignore the yapping.
From Russia’s perspective the meeting is easy enough. Putin is self-controlled, intelligent and disciplined: he’s ready and capable of talking about anything; he knows what Russia’s interests are; he has an open mind; I believe he is hopeful but not deluded. He knows that the WaPo and NYT think Trump is an idiot but I doubt he looks to these propaganda rags for guidance. He is smart enough to know that a man who became POTUS against all opposition could not possibly be an idiot but, at the same time he is experienced enough not to hope for too much (as he told Oliver Stone: presidents come and go but US policy doesn’t change).
The commonly suggested subjects for discussion present some difficulties. In Syria Washington is simply too involved with fantasies of “moderate rebels”, confusion from moment to moment and speaker to speaker about what Assad’s future should be. Added to which, there is more than a little evidence that, whatever official Washington may say, the generals on the ground will attack Syrian units or aircraft ad libitum. Therefore it is too complicated a subject for a first discussion. Countering terrorism is another suggestion but, for a serious discussion to be possible, Washington must first decide what side it is really on: it has too long a history of supporting jihadists here but fighting them there to be believed (and especially not by Putin who told Stone that he had proof that Washington had supported jihadists in Chechnya). So, neither of these subjects makes for a good first discussion.
But there is one serious subject that would work and that is North Korea and its nuclear and missile programs. It drew attention to itself in the most dramatic way by launching a rocket that could reach Alaska on the most sacred holiday of the American mythos. There is no reason to think that either Beijing or Moscow are much pleased with this development either. Chinese President Xi was just in Moscow with Putin and the two discussed North Korea and a joint statement was issued. They call for the cessation of missile and nuclear tests by Pyongyang and cessation of US-South Korean military exercises near the border; Beijing calls this the “double suspension”. If a solution is found, it will have to be that; threats from Washington do nothing to solve anything. Pyongyang isn’t scared and it has every reason to hate and distrust Washington: US aircraft dropped 25% more bombs on North Korea than it did on Japan, killing, one US general estimated, 20% of the population. Americans may have forgotten that, but North Koreans have not.
This, therefore, is a subject that is topical; it is a problem that all three capitals recognise; there is a solution. While the solution will necessitate some climbdown by Washington, it can be accomplished in the spirit of Catch-22’s Colonel Scheisskopf by the announcement, every year, that this year’s exercise has been cancelled.
North Korea’s missile launch will certainly be on the G20 agenda. Trump has met with Xi, Xi has met with Putin; Xi and Putin have the solution, they’re all going to be in the same place at the same time. So I would suggest that a meeting of the three of them to discuss the “Korean peninsula” issue would make for some fruitful results. Xi could, as it were, make the introduction.
I don’t suppose that any of the three has people devoted to reading my website so I don’t expect one of them to pick up the suggestion.
But I think that it is something to watch for and there isn’t any reason not to think that bilateral discussions in North Korea couldn’t segue into a three-sided conversation.