GENEVA (Reuters) – U.S. President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin are set to hold their June 16 summit in an 18th-century Swiss villa overlooking Lake Geneva, a soothing setting for what promises to be heated talks.
Bitter disputes over election interference, cyber attacks, human rights and Ukraine hang over their first face-to-face meeting since Biden took office on Jan 20.
Strategic nuclear stability and regional conflicts will be on the table. Biden, who is due to arrive in Britain on Wednesday at the start of his first trip abroad as president, has said he would press Putin to respect human rights.
Putin said last Friday he expected the talks to be held in a positive atmosphere, though he anticipated no breakthrough.
He said allegations that Russian hackers were behind a cyber attack that disrupted meat production in North America and Australia were an attempt to provoke a political row ahead of the summit, Interfax news agency reported.
Despite “destructive noise” by both sides, a mutual objective has emerged to put their relationship “on a more predictable and stable basis”, said Robert Legvold, professor emeritus at Colombia University and a Russia expert.
“Over time Geneva summits have been critical to the relationship,” he told reporters in the Swiss city on Wednesday.
“And when it comes to actually working out important areas of cooperation, strategic nuclear arms control, the majority of those talks have been in Geneva too.”
Diplomatic sources expect confirmation of the venue later on Wednesday or Thursday. The Swiss police and army have closed the two parks surrounding the Villa La Grange and installed barricades and barbed wire.
Neutral Switzerland, which did not join Western sanctions against Russia for its 2014 annexation of the Crimea region from Ukraine, lobbied hard to land the first big power summit in the Alpine country in decades.
In the Cold War era, U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev held their first summit in Geneva in Nov. 1985 and agreed to pursue cuts in their nuclear arsenals.
In Geneva in 2009, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov a yellow box bearing a red “reset” button to symbolise improved ties under President Barack Obama. But the word “reset” was mistranslated into the Russian word for “overcharge”, creating an awkward moment.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Lavrov will accompany Biden and Putin.
The classic villa is located in a park along the left bank. Dotted with redwood trees, rose bushes and ancient fountains, the park offers a stunning view of Lake Geneva and sailboats.
Biden is also scheduled to hold talks with Swiss President Guy Parmelin.
Switzerland has represented U.S. interests in Iran since the 1979 Islamic revolution, often facilitating the transfer of prisoners between the two foes. Tax issues are likely to be raised after Biden referred to Switzerland as a “fiscal paradise” in April.
(Reporting and writing by Stephanie Nebehay; additional reporting by Denis Balibouse; editing by Michael Shields, Alexandra Hudson and Gareth Jones)