Obama and Putin to mark WWII anniversary, but unlikely to meet

McClatchy Washington BureauMay 8, 2014 


U.S. troops wade through water and Nazi gunfire during the D-Day landing in Normandy, France, on June 6, 1944.


President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin both plan to attend ceremonies marking the 70th anniversary of D-Day next month in Normandy, but it’s unlikely they’ll be meeting.

The White House doesn’t expect Obama to hold any one-on-one meetings with world leaders -- including Putin -- at the World War II commemoration on June 6, White House Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters Thursday.

The White House in September, however, downplayed the chance that the two leaders would meet at a summit in St. Petersburg -- and they eventually did.

But Earnest said the event is "primarily an opportunity for the President and leaders from around the globe to pay tribute to the heroism of Allied forces that led to victory in World War II.”

He noted Putin’s appearance isn’t unexpected, despite tensions between Russia and the U.S. and the European Union over Russia’s intervention in Ukraine.

“If you consider that the Russian soldiers were fighting on the same side as American soldiers in that battle, it shouldn't be a remarkable surprise that the Russian president would attend," Earnest said.

German chancellor Angela Merkel, who is said to be close to Putin, said she was “pleased” that Putin would attend, calling it “good news” amid the conflict. Earnest, however, declined to say whether Obama shared the sentiment.

“We’re focused on remembering the sacrifices and heroism of troops,” Earnest said.

Obama and Putin have spoken several times by phone since Russia seized Ukraine’s Crimea, but the conversations have apparently done little to persuade Putin to abandon his efforts. Press Secretary Jay Carney said earlier this week that he didn’t expect the two to meet -- but said the dispute between the two countries isn’t because of a lack of talks.

“There have been direct and multiple conversations between Secretary Kerry and (Russia’s) Foreign Minister Lavrov. There have been direct and lengthy conversations between Presidents Obama and Putin,” Carney said. “Our views are quite clear. They happen to coincide with the views of the vast majority of leaders in nations in the world about what’s happening in Ukraine and the unacceptable actions that Russia has engaged in. I don’t see, again, an absence of communication to be the problem here.”

Obama and Putin most recently met in person last September in St. Petersburg, Russia -- a 20 minute unscheduled tete-a-tete that came even as Obama had scrapped a pre-summit meeting with Putin over mounting frustration with Moscow.

White House officials had downplayed the chances of a meeting, but Obama -- who has characterized Putin as a sullen schoolboy -- called the talk candid and constructive. He said the two had agreed to keep working on a political solution to the Syrian crisis. The Russians had pinned the use of chemical weapons on the Syrian opposition, a charge the administration dismissed.

Putin, at a news conference that preceded Obama’s by just minutes, called the conversation “very friendly,” but said the two “stuck to our guns.” He said Syria was the sole topic. The issue of Russia granting intelligence leaker Edward Snowden temporary asylum wasn’t broached, he said.

A week after the meeting, the administration opened the door to a deal with Putin to rid Syria of its chemical weapons.

French President Francois Hollande invited Obama to the ceremony when he visited the U.S. in February.

"This will be a strong message because we will commemorate the sacrifice made by those soldiers. But we will also celebrate reconciliation and peace," Hollande said.


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