In a schedule full of meetings with world leaders, Trump is pencilled in to talk with Putin, National Security Advisor John Bolton told reporters on Tuesday. Explaining the absence of a meeting with bin Salman, Bolton simply said that Trump’s schedule is “full to overflowing.”
Trump’s meeting with Putin looks set to build on the leaders’ summit in Helsinki this summer, with many of the same issues on the table. According to Bolton, the two leaders will discuss “security issues, arms control, and regional issues, including the Middle East.” The recent flare-up of tensions between Russia and Ukraine is “sure” to be discussed, he added.
Trump will also likely be pressured to discuss the recent confrontation between Russian and Ukrainian vessels in the Kerch Strait. Asked for a response by reporters on Monday, Trump said that he was “not happy about it at all,” but declined to elaborate or take sides. Trump’s meeting with Putin will be the first time since June that the two leaders get a chance to talk, save for a short greeting at Armistice Day commemorations in Paris earlier this month.
What could be more noteworthy, however, is the lack of a meeting with the Saudi Crown Prince. The murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi has strained relations between Riyadh and much of the world, and has focused attention on Trump’s insistence on standing by the Saudis, despite calls for sanctions from lawmakers in the US.
Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Bolton left open the possibility of a meeting between Trump and MBS, but went no further than that.
“I wouldn’t say that we’ve ruled out any interaction,” he said. “The president’s schedule is pretty packed…we wouldn’t rule anything out.”
Saudi Arabia has admitted that Jamal Khashoggi was murdered by Saudi operatives, but denied that MBS authorized or ordered his execution. Trump issued a statement last week saying that, while the Saudi prince “could well have” known in advance of the plan to kill the journalist, the US will remain a “steadfast partner” of Saudi Arabia, owing to its strategic importance as an oil exporter and ally against Iran.
Trump also said last week that a CIA report – which concluded “with high confidence” that MBS had ordered Khashoggi ‘taken out’ – was based on “feelings” and not facts. The president’s press secretary, Sarah Sanders, echoed his words on Tuesday.
“We haven’t seen definitive evidence come from our intelligence community that ties [MBS] directly to that,” she said. “If there’s more definitive information we’ll make a decision at that point.”