WASHINGTON, Sept. 24 (UPI) — Amid escalating tensions over Syria and Ukraine, President Barack Obama and Russian leader Vladimir Putin will meet to discuss the issues in person at the United Nations on Monday, the Kremlin and White House announced Thursday.
The leaders’ meet will occur at the U.N. General Assembly in New York City, where all foreign dignitaries will also gather to encourage diplomacy in a wide range of issues.
“When the president sits down with President Putin, the top item on his agenda will be Ukraine,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Thursday.
The meeting is the latest show of cooperation between the United States and Russia, which have sustained tremendous setbacks in relations over the last year. Diplomatic relations have been strained by Putin’s annexation of Crimea last year and Moscow’s military support of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime.
The White House said Monday’s meeting was requested by the Kremlin. Obama has repeatedly declined to meet with Putin in recent months due to ongoing tensions in Ukraine and Syria, where Moscow’s military has been extremely active.
“It makes sense for President Obama to sit down with his counterpart and see if he can get greater clarity about Russia’s intentions inside of Ukraine,” Earnest said.
Obama and most other world leaders condemned Russia’s annexation of Crimea, and administration officials have held growing concerns over Putin’s sending military equipment into Syria — where Islamic State militants continue to try and inflict chaos.
Earnest expressed hope that the meeting might get Russian leaders to think about “whether or not they’re willing to at least consider President Obama’s advice when it comes to reinforcing their military support for the Assad regime.”
Monday’s meet will happen as the General Assembly holds its annual session. Wednesday, the White House indicated Obama would meet with Putin if a gathering could be arranged, but it hadn’t been finalized by that point.
The last time Obama and Putin met in a formal gathering was in France in June 2014, to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the D-Day invasion during World War II. They have, however, spoken three times on the telephone since then and bumped into each other at an Asian summit in November.