WASHINGTON DC: When Donald Trump first spoke to Russian President Vladimir Putin after becoming U.S. president, he reviled the "New Start" treaty - a pillar of arms control - as a bad deal for America.
When the two meet in Helsinki on Monday they are likely to touch on whether to extend that agreement to 2026 and what to do about another pact, the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) to try to dampen a high-risk nuclear rivalry between the two former Cold War foes.
Former U.S. officials, arms control experts and diplomats do not expect a decision on New Start renewal or the INF Treaty at Helsinki but rather, at best, a deal for experts to take up the issues.
"The most likely outcome is the restarting of the strategic stability talks between the U.S. and Russia," said Frank Rose, a former U.S. assistant secretary of state for arms control now at the Brookings Institution think tank.
The last U.S.-Russian talks on "strategic stability" - a catch-all term for issues related to nuclear arms control - occurred in September and a subsequent round slated for March was canceled, reflecting strains in the relationship.
An agreement to reopen talks would allow both sides to argue that they are tackling a major issue, a result analysts said might appeal to both leaders' egos, while leaving it to lower-level officials to grapple with the nitty gritty.
It might also be a rare accomplishment for two nations at odds over charges Moscow interfered in the 2016 U.S. election, Russia's 2014 annexation of Crimea and support for separatists in eastern Ukraine, which have triggered U.S. sanctions, and their involvement on opposite sides of the Syrian civil war.
Ahead of the summit, Russian diplomats have stressed the need for strategic stability talks, saying existing arms control treaties are fraying at the edges and they fear Washington will withdraw from the INF treaty. Both sides accuse one another of violating the treaty.
"The idea of dealing with the U.S. as equals in this one area of nuclear arms, where Russia is the only other party in the world that is comparable to the United States, has some appeal (to Moscow)," said a former senior U.S. official.