WASHINGTON (CN) – The White House confirmed Thursday that President Donald Trump will meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Germany at the G20 summit next week amid an ongoing FBI probe of Trump campaign officials.
National security adviser H.R. McMaster confirmed the meeting between the two leaders at an off-camera press briefing with White House economic adviser Gary Cohn, the Associated Press reported.
Saying the agenda for the meeting is not finalized, the two declined to say whether Trump will confront Putin over accusations that Russia meddled in the 2016 U.S. election.
According to the AP, McMaster said Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is leading the charge on discussions between Trump and Putin, which will tackle problems and irritants in the U.S.-Russia relationship, and will also explore areas of common interest where the two can work together.
On the campaign trail Trump said he would like to improve relations with Russia, which were tense during the Obama administration. Since taking office however, he has said relations might be at an all-time low.
But any steps he might take to warm them could prove difficult as members of his own party – including Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and John McCain of Arizona – have called for harsher sanctions to punish Russia for election meddling and deter such interference in the future.
Legislation to do just that overwhelmingly cleared the Senate earlier this month by a vote of 97 – 2.
A meeting between the two leaders would not be unusual in and of itself – President Obama met with Putin many times even when the U.S. was punishing Russia with sanctions for interfering in Ukraine.
What’s different now is that Trump has repeatedly praised the autocratic leader, and he has also been reluctant to acknowledge Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election.
The meeting will also come as special counsel Robert Mueller actively investigates whether Trump officials helped Russian efforts to steer the election in his favor.
All 17 U.S. intelligence agencies concluded that Russia was behind last year’s hack into the emails of the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta.
While the intelligence community found no evidence that Russia changed vote totals, Wikileaks released the stolen emails in batches at key moments, which proved embarrassing to both the DNC and Clinton.
Trump has pushed back forcefully against the still unproven allegations that anyone from his campaign helped in this effort, as have Russian officials.
Trump kicks off his second foreign trip next week in Warsaw, Poland, where he will deliver a major speech and meet with Polish President Andrzej Duda.
In addition to Putin, the AP reported that Trump would also meet with leaders of the United Kingdom, Germany, China, South Korea, Mexico, Indonesia and Singapore, according to White House officials.