DAVID GREENE, HOST:
At a summit in Helsinki, Finland, today, President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin spent two hours with each other with only interpreters in the room. Now they are continuing their summit, meeting along with some of their top advisers. Now, earlier, President Trump laid out some of the priorities for this meeting.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Most importantly, we have a lot of good things to talk about and things to talk about. We have discussions on everything from trade to military to missiles to nuclear to China.
GREENE: A long list there. Now, this meeting comes in the midst of contentious relations between the United States and European powers and just a few days after President Trump's own Justice Department issued indictments for 12 Russian nationals accused of interfering in the 2016 presidential election in the United States. Let's talk about all of this with NPR White House correspondent Scott Horsley, who is in Washington, D.C., and NPR's Moscow correspondent, Lucian Kim, who is with the NPR team covering the summit in Helsinki. Hello to you both.
SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Good morning.
LUCIAN KIM, BYLINE: Good morning.
GREENE: So, Scott, let me start with you. These two leaders were scheduled to meet one-on-one for 90 minutes, which was alarming some of President Trump's critics, saying they're hoping there'll be some transparency in terms of what these two leaders talked about. This meeting ended up lasting even longer - two hours. What should we read into this?
HORSLEY: Well, you're right - there were a lot of warnings about this. A number of critics of the president felt that he was going to be overmatched going into this meeting one-on-one without aides present. They note that he spent the weekend golfing, while Vladimir Putin spent the weekend and spent a long time before that getting ready for this encounter. And in that long list of topics that the president rattled off, he did not mention Russia's interference in the U.S. presidential election.
HORSLEY: He did not mention those indictments that came out last Friday. He did tell reporters last week that he would certainly raise that issue with Vladimir Putin, but he didn't mention it at the outset of the meeting. And we'll have to take the president's own word for it for what he did since there weren't any other advisers present.
GREENE: Lucian, Vladimir Putin, as Scott just said, put a lot of preparation into this meeting. And a lot of analysts and, you know, diplomatic veterans have suggested that by just having this meeting, Putin won some sort of victory. So, I mean, what is he getting out of all this time with Donald Trump?
KIM: Well, actually, not only analysts are saying that. His own spokesman said on Russian television this morning that the main thing is that this meeting or summit - whatever you want to call it - is taking place. What's interesting - it started almost an hour late because of Putin. But for him, that isn't actually such a long time. It shows that he really cares. Putin really wanted this meeting. He never had a formal summit with Obama. And after the annexation of Crimea, he was really treated like a pariah. All those meetings with Obama were sort of on the sidelines of big international events. And, of course, accusations of election interference afterwards didn't really make it viable for Trump to plan a meeting any earlier than this. So this is really a big win. And that's the way it's being portrayed on Russian television.
GREENE: And, Lucian, Putin has this habit or this history of showing up really late for meetings like this and keeping people waiting, right? I mean, that's some sort of strategy he's used. And are we seeing any sort of signs of him using that sort of strategy here today in Helsinki?
KIM: Well, yeah. It's kind of a - it's a habit. It's a way for him to show his own importance. I mean, what more pressing business did he have this morning than meet the president of the United States?
GREENE: Meeting with the U.S. president.
KIM: But President Trump has also shown that these kind of little gestures - you know, giving someone a handshake, which way, not having a handshake - also has significance for him. These are just little power plays. Of course, Putin is a former KGB officer. He was trained how to identify people's weaknesses, insecurities, also points of pride, and then how to exploit them for his own benefit.
GREENE: Scott, can you just remind us of this relationship? I mean, obviously, these two leaders have spoken before. This is the first big summit between the two of them. But they have a history of having conversations that run longer than expected. What's come of these past interactions?
HORSLEY: Yeah. Jon Huntsman, the U.S. ambassador to Moscow, calls this the first summit. And he sort of dismissed their earlier meetings. But those - some of those earlier meetings have been pretty substantial. Their first came on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in Hamburg. And that was another meeting where they were supposed to talk for maybe 30 minutes or so, and it wound up going on for hours. I was in the press pool that day, and I remember we were all looking each other and saying, surely, they're not still meeting. They must have broken up and are regrouping. But, no, they were meeting for all that time. And that was the first time that the president directly raised the question of Russia's interference in the 2016 election. And Putin denied it.
GREENE: All right. NPR White House correspondent Scott Horsley and Moscow correspondent Lucian Kim. Thank you both.
HORSLEY: You're welcome.
KIM: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.