MOSCOW - U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin will meet Monday during the U.N. General Assembly in New York.
The meeting in effect ends a standoff over direct talks after the two men fell into disagreement on a number of issues, including the war in Ukraine, Moscow's support for Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad, and a rollback on democratic rights within Russia.
A White House official on Thursday said the meeting came at Putin's request and reflected Obama's desire to not waste an opportunity.
"Given the situations in Ukraine and Syria, 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," the U.S. official said.
He said the president would "take advantage of this meeting to discuss Ukraine" and focus on ensuring that Russia uphold the cease-fire agreement reached between Ukraine's government and Russia-backed separatists.
But later a Kremlin spokesman said the meeting is taking place "by mutual agreement" and Syria would be the primary issue discussed. He added that Ukraine would be discussed "if time allows."
The Kremlin continues to ferry arms and personnel to a Russian military base in Syria's coastal Latakia Province.
Moscow-based analyst Dmtiry Oreshkin said the Kremlin's political calculus was obvious all along.
Putin believes the West has no choice but to meet with him, Oreshkin said. He has already sent troops into Syria, so he is a player, and now the conditions are set for a deal.
Just what "deal" he might seek is open to speculation.
Earlier this month, Putin called for Western powers to join Russia in an international terrorism campaign aimed at wiping out the Islamic State group and other terrorists threats.
Observers say Putin may seek to trade Russian cooperation in Syria for an easing of Western sanctions imposed over Russia's actions in Ukraine.
Just how receptive Obama might be to such a proposal is questionable. In comments to U.S. media, a White House spokesman insisted the president's "core message" to Putin would be making sure the Russian leader finally lives up to commitments aimed at securing a lasting peace in Ukraine.
Putin is scheduled to address the U.N. assembly on Monday. He and Obama most recently met last November at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Beijing.