When they meet next Monday in Finland on July 16, U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin will continue a long tradition of summits between the two countries, some of which have been successful -- leading to arms reductions -- while others only drove a wedge in relations.
The Helsinki summit, the first official U.S.-Russian meeting in eight years, may be a little of both.
Senior Trump administration officials said Trump plans to confront Putin over a medley of problematic activities -- aggression in Ukraine and Syria, and election hacking. But Jon Huntsman Jr., U.S. ambassador to Russia, said Trump wants to reduce tension between the two countries and come to an agreement on national security issues.
Putin and Trump likely will return to a popular decades-old topic for White House and Kremlin leaders, nuclear arsenals, in addition to sanctions imposed by the United States on Russia for the aforementioned malign activity.
While many may see this as a landmark summit between two leaders who have vacillated between high praise and condemnation for each other, their topics of discussion echo the past.
Much like the Syrian civil war is likely to be a focus of the Helsinki talks, World War II was the impetus for a series of summits in the 1940s between the so-called Big Three -- U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Soviet leader Joseph Stalin.
The Grand Alliance held three meetings in November and December 1943 in Tehran, in February 1945 in Yalta, Soviet Union, and in July and August 1945 in Potsdam, Germany.
The Tehran Conference resulted in the opening of a second front against the Nazis through an invasion of France and recognition of Iran's independence. Days after the summit, the three leaders drafted a "surrender-or-die" ultimatum to Germany.
Two years later, the Yalta Conference saw the Big Three draft unconditional surrender terms for Germany and plan for Europe's postwar reorganization. That summer, the Potsdam Conference, which also included British Prime Minister Clement Attlee, laid out the terms for Japan's surrender and the administration of Germany after the war.
One decade later, the Cold War brought a new need for a slew of new summits between U.S. and Soviet leaders.
President Dwight D. Eisenhower met with Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev three times between 1955 and 1960, including the first visit of a Kremlin leader to the United States in 1959.
The Geneva Summit in 1955 was the first of many nuclear arms discussions between the two countries, but also focused on trade and peace and included British Prime Minister Anthony Eden, Soviet Premier Nikolai Bulganin and French Prime Minister Edgar Faure.
Little resulted from Khrushchev's visit to Washington and Camp David in 1959, at the tail end of the "Khrushchev Thaw," other than a promise to address the problem of a divided Berlin when Eisenhower made his return visit to the Soviet Union in 1960 -- and a visit to some Iowan cornfields. The Soviet leader also visited Los Angeles.
Eisenhower never made the trip to Moscow. It was scrapped after Khrushchev lashed out at the U.S. delegation at a Paris summit over the famous downing of a U.S. U-2 spy plane piloted by Francis Gary Powers over the Soviet Union in May 1960. Another summit set for Geneva that year was also canceled.
Khrushchev met with one other U.S. president -- John F. Kennedy -- in June 1961 at the Vienna Summit. They spoke to the flow of East Germans emigrating from Soviet-controlled East Berlin to West Berlin -- a problem for Khrushchev which eventually resulted in the construction of the Berlin Wall. They also spoke about other Cold War flashpoints like the failed Bay of Pigs invasion in Cuba two months earlier and Laos.
The Glassboro Summit Conference between President Lyndon B. Johnson and Soviet Premier Alexei Kosygin in New Jersey in 1967 resulted in little of consequence, but five years later, a meeting between President Richard Nixon, Kosygin and Leonid Brezhnev, general-secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, resulted in the signing of multiple agreements, including the first Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty. SALT I froze the number of strategic ballistic missile launchers the two countries possessed and limited other arms.
The SALT I treaty paved the way for further arms talks between Brezhnev and Nixon in 1974 and the later signing of SALT II, which sought to curtail the manufacturing of strategic nuclear weapons, by Brezhnev and President Jimmy Carter in 1979. It was never ratified due to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan that year and U.S. opposition to Soviet forces in Cuba.
During his time as general-secretary -- following short tenures by Yuri Andropov and Konstantin Chernenko, who appeared at no summits -- Mikhail Gorbachev held a dozen meetings with U.S. presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. Perhaps the most important came in October 1986, when Gorbachev and Reagan met in Iceland and began work on what would result in the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.
The talks in Reykjavik stalled, though, when the two failed to agree on terms for a total nuclear disarmament pact. Gorbachev called the meeting a failure at the time.
"The American side came to this meeting empty handed with a set of mothballed proposals from the Geneva negotiations," he said.
U.S. officials cited the Soviet Union's desire to kill off Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative -- also called Star Wars -- for the collapse in talks. Years later, however, Gorbachev would cite the near agreement in Iceland as a key turning point in U.S.-Soviet relations near the end of the Cold War.
Gorbachev visited Washington, D.C., in December 1987 to sign the INF Treaty, which eliminated all intermediate-range nuclear missiles and set up mechanisms for reciprocal on-site missile inspections.
Reagan traveled to Moscow in May 1988 and the two met in New York City six months later for their final summit.
In December 1989, Bush and Gorbachev declared an end to the Cold War weeks after the fall of the Berlin Wall -- though they signed no agreements. The so-called "Seasick Summit" or "Saltwater Summit" took place aboard U.S. and Soviet warships off the coast of Malta.
"I don't think that anyone can say that the saltwater summit was anything but an adventure," Bush said later.
During six subsequent meetings, they signed chemical and nuclear weaponsand trade pacts and discussed the 1990 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait.
In 1991, the two leaders signed the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty -- or START I -- an agreement to reduce strategic offensive arms that succeeded the 1970s SALT negotiations.
After the fall of the Soviet Union, Russian President Boris Yeltsin and Bush signed START II in 1993 -- which eliminated about two-thirds of Russian and U.S. strategic missiles -- but Russia withdrew in 2002. Negotiations in 1997 between Yeltsin and U.S. President Bill Clinton on START III never resulted in a signed treaty.
U.S. President George W. Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin met three times, including a 2002 summit at which they signed the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty to limit nuclear arsenals to between 1,700 and 2,200. It was replaced in 2010 when U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty at their only summit in the Czech Republic. The New START was expected to remain in place until at least 2021.
The Trump-Putin meeting comes at a particularly tense time in U.S.-Russian relations. In November, now-Russian Prime Minister Medvedev said relations were at their lowest point in decades.
"The bad thing is that despite having contacts and an opportunity to discuss some issues, our relations [with the U.S.] are deteriorating day by day. They are at the lowest point in recent decades," he said after meeting with Trump in the Philippines.
A Gallup poll in February indicated 72 percent of Americans viewed Russia unfavorably, and a Pew poll in December found that a plurality of Americans -- 31 percent -- said Russia represents the greatest danger to the United States in an open-ended question.
This article has been adapted from its original source.
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