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A look at Helsinki’s long history with U.S.-Russia summits

The venue is famed for its Cold War diplomacy, hosting previous summits over the decades between Leonid Brezhnev and Gerald Ford in 1975, Mikhail Gorbachev and George H.W. Bush in 1990, and Boris Yeltsin and Bill Clinton in 1997.

Some 35 heads of state and ruling Communist Party chiefs attended the 1975 summit, designed to bring permanent peace to Europe.

The three-day meeting represented at the time the biggest summit conference in European history. Ford would go on to sign with Moscow the Helsinki Accords, the pact that reduced Cold War tensions and eventually proved to be the beginning of the end of the Soviet Union.

When Presidents Bush and Gorbachev arrived in Helsinki fifteen years later in 1990, it was during the first Gulf crisis, about a month after Iraqi President Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait.

The public unity of the U.S. and Soviet leaders came under attack from Hussein, who issued a statement warning them against trying to restore the situation existing before the invasion.

The 1990 summit officially began when host President Mauno Koivisto welcomed both Presidents and their wives to his 19th century seaside palace for the summit’s opening ceremonies. After Bush and Gorbachev greeted each other warmly, the Soviet leader added a humorous touch to the otherwise formal proceedings by presenting Bush with a framed cartoon depicting each president as a champion boxer, arms held aloft by a “global referee” in victory over aggression.

Presidents Clinton and Yeltsin met for their Helsinki summit in 1997 with both leaders optimistic about the outcome of their talks despite tensions at the time over the enlargement of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

Russia bitterly opposed NATO’s plans to take in new members from Central and Eastern Europe, saying it felt threatened and — on the eve of the summit — that it would be the West’s biggest mistake since the end of the Cold War.

But Clinton would go on to meet Yeltsin more than 15 times in total as President and called him a friend.

The two leaders created a reputation for back-slapping bonhomie during the 1990s, when their rapport survived their countries’ differences during crises such as the collapse of former Yugoslavia into war.

Later this month in Helsinki, Trump will drill down on Russia’s “malign activity” during summits with NATO allies and Putin, U.S. officials have said, signaling a harder line against Moscow thanTrump has traditionally taken.

Trump and Putin will likely also discuss two arms control pacts – the INF Treaty and the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), said U.S. Ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman, who declined to address whether they might strike a deal on either pact, which are planks of U.S.-Russian arms control.


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