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President Obama’s top spokesman took repeated jabs at Russian President Vladimir Putin Thursday, suggesting he is “desperate” to sit down with the president, and even criticizing his posture.
Press Secretary Josh Earnest claimed Putin’s repeated requests for a meeting with Obama are a sign he is hungry to use it as a way to enhance his stature on the world stage.
“I think some might conclude that that means the Russians are … more desperate,” Earnest told reporters.
“They are quite interested in having a conversation with President Obama,” he added. “After some careful consideration on our end, the president did make a decision that it was worth it at this point to engage with President Putin in a face-to-face-meeting to see if the United States’ interests could be advanced."
The meeting, which is expected to take place Monday in New York, will be the first in-person discussion between Obama and Putin in more than a year. The U.S. has sought to freeze out Russia following its military intervention in Ukraine in 2014.
Earnest’s comments are a sign of the tensions that will be on display during the rare meeting between the two world leaders.
Obama and Putin have had a chilly relationship ever since the Russian leader reassumed the presidency in 2012.
In past meetings with Obama, Putin has been photographed slouching in his chair with his legs spread apart; a pose the president said makes him look “like the bored kid at the back of the classroom.”
Earnest took note of Putin’s poor posture but claimed it was not a personal slight against Obama, pointing to a photo of the Russian president striking a similar pose in a recent meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“President Putin was striking a now-familiar pose of less than perfect posture, unbuttoned jacket, knees spread far apart to convey a particular image,” the spokesman said. “I guess the point is President Putin doesn’t seek to project this image only when President Obama is around. I think this is an image that he seeks to project in a variety of international settings.”
The U.S. and Russia have even disagreed over what issue will top their agenda at next week’s meeting.
White House officials said Obama’s “core message” will be to urge Russia to abide by a ceasefire in Ukraine, where government forces are battling pro-Russian separatists.
Meanwhile, the Kremlin said the two leaders will focus on Russia’s military buildup in Syria, where its ally President Bashar al-Assad is battling opposition rebels and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Thursday Obama and Putin will discuss Ukraine "if time allows.”
Informed of his comments by reporters, Earnest replied, “There will be time.”