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What Obama and Putin plan to discuss next week

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Alexei Nikolsky/RIA-Novosti/AP

(Read caption) Russian President Vladimir Putin watches military exercises in Russia on Thursday. With dozens of Russian combat jets and helicopter gunships lined up at an air base in Syria, Russian President Vladimir Putin is ready for a big-time show at the United Nations General Assembly.

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Russian President Vladimir Putin and President Obama will sit down together for their first official meeting in two years on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York on Monday.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest has maintained that Mr. Putin was “desperate” for a meeting. 

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“Despite our profound differences with Moscow, the president believes that it would be irresponsible not to test whether we can make progress through high-level engagement with the Russians,” said a senior US administration official.

Since Mr. Obama’s last meeting with Putin, Russia intervened in eastern Ukraine, annexed Crimea, and increased its military involvement in Syria.

White House officials say that the meeting will focus on urging Putin to “live up to the ceasefire” terms with Ukraine that were negotiated in Minsk, Belarus, in February. Russia and Ukraine have continued to engage in conflict, however, with reports of “more loss of life, a rise in ceasefire violence, obstruction of the monitors, and continued Russian support for the separatists” in eastern Ukraine, says NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg.

Obama and other western leaders believe abiding by the ceasefire is the best course of action, and quite possibly the only option for peaceful resolution in the area, reported the Wall Street Journal.

Also on the discussion table is Syria, where Putin has recently dispatched military supplies and equipment in what looks to be the beginnings of a military base setup.

Defense Secretary Ashton Carter is worried that “Russia may use its military buildup to indiscriminately attack Syrian rebels who oppose” Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, reported The New York Times. US officials insist Mr. Assad step down.

“Ultimately, as long [as] Assad is governing, given his record and his ongoing actions, we’re just not going to be able to have the kind of success that we need in defeating ISIS [Islamic State],” US ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power told Bloomberg.

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Obama hopes to learn Putin’s intentions in Syria, amid hesitation to join forces against Islamic State in the region, due to the nations’ differing opinions on Assad.

But it appears as if Putin will take action regardless. As Bloomberg reported Thursday, Putin is “preparing to launch unilateral airstrikes against Islamic State from inside Syria if the US rejects his proposal to join forces, two people familiar with the matter said.” 

“We will continue to work with Russia on issues where our interests overlap,” Mr. Carter said. “It is possible but not yet clear that such an overlap might exist in Syria.”