WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin will meet next week in New York for the first time in nearly a year to discuss the war in Syria, where the Kremlin is building up a military presence, and shoring up a peace deal in Ukraine, the White House announced.
The Russians said the meeting will be held on Monday after Putin speaks to the UN General Assembly.
The White House sought to tamp down expectations that the talks would bring any major breakthroughs toward reversing the worst downturn in relations with Moscow since the collapse of the former Soviet Union in 1991.
Still, "the president believes that it would be irresponsible not to test whether we can make progress through high-level engagement with the Russians," said an unidentified senior administration official in a statement emailed by the White House.
Moreover, while Putin, who requested the meeting, was expected to focus on the Syrian civil war and his deployment of aircraft, armor and personnel near the Syrian coastal city of Latakia, Obama intends to concentrate on what the administration says is unrelenting Russian military backing for pro-Moscow separatists in two enclaves of eastern Ukraine.
"President Obama will once again use this occasion to reinforce to President Putin the importance of Russia keeping the commitments" made in accords that ended the separatist uprising, said White House spokesman Josh Earnest.
The United States and the European Union also have imposed harsh economic sanctions on Russian state-run banks and firms and members of Putin's inner circle in retaliation for Moscow's support for the separatists and its annexation of the Crimea peninsula.
The U.S. emphasis on Ukraine appeared aimed at telegraphing Washington's disinterest in a proposal that Putin is expected to detail at the UN -- to create a coalition to fight the Islamic State that would include the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad, Iran, the United States and its European and Arab allies.
The United States sees no need for such a plan, but says it is open to Russia joining a U.S.-led coalition of more than 60 nations in conducting airstrikes against the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq and training and equipping Iraqi forces.
"President Obama will make clear once again that Russia doubling down on their support for the Assad regime is a losing bet," Earnest said.