With the world watching, US President Joe Biden and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in Geneva on Wednesday have started their first face-to-face talks since Biden took office this January.
Putin arrived by plane from Moscow about an hour before the scheduled start of the talks, which are taking place in an 18th-century villa amid tensions between the two world powers.
The two leaders, who brought along their respective foreign minister and secretary of state, are not expected to share a meal or hold a joint press conference after the talks in the Swiss city.
Security was tight in Switzerland's second-largest city, which is encircled by the Alps and Jura mountains and hosts the UN European headquarters, along with several UN agencies such as the World Health Organization and the World Trade Organization.
The talks are expected to focus on matters such as arms control, cyber-security, US concerns over Russia's treatment of political opponents and election interference, and the situation in Ukraine, where Russian-backed forces are fighting in the country’s east.
Putin met Swiss President Guy Parmelin shortly before the talks.
After arriving in the famously neutral country on Tuesday, Biden had a 30-minute meeting on bilateral issues such as Swiss handling of US diplomatic relations with Iran.
Swiss newspapers played up the meeting, with French-language Le Temps headlining, "The day when the eyes of the entire world are on Geneva."
The Tribune de Geneve trumpeted, "Joe Biden makes Geneva the center of the world."
'Sign of hope'
The talks are a “sign of hope,” said the Swiss president after meeting Biden, telling journalists that "constructive dialogue" is needed between great powers to meet their present global challenges.
"Switzerland is convinced that a constructive dialogue is necessary between the great powers so that we can meet the challenges of our time," said Parmelin after meeting Biden, describing his talks with Biden as "warm."
Just before starting their talks, Biden and Putin spoke briefly in front of a team of press members and cameras.
"Mr. President, I would like to thank you for your initiative to meet in person," Putin told Biden.
"I know you've had a long trip, you've worked hard," he added. “Nevertheless, there are many issues in Russian-American relations that need to be discussed at the highest level. I hope our meeting will be productive.”
Biden for his part said that it is "always better to meet face to face."
The Villa La Grange, the site at the middle of a park where the talks are being held, 36 years earlier witnessed another historic meeting when late US President Ronald Reagan met with Mikhail Gorbachev, leader of the former Soviet Union.
Thirty years before that, in 1955, Geneva hosted a historic meeting between the so-called "Big Four," when for the first time since 1945, the victors of World War II – the US, USSR, France, and Great Britain – agreed to meet in Geneva under UN auspices to discuss key issues of peace and security.