Can a global tax deal survive political gridlock in the US?

Joe Biden celebrated last week after 130 countries agreed to make significant changes to the international tax system, reaching a consensus after fresh proposals from the US jolted talks that appeared to have hit an impasse. 

But the momentum that had gathered pace since Biden took office threatens to be lost in Washington, where any tax agreement must secure support in the Senate, where the Democrats have control by the tiniest of margins.

Will the new tax agreement be passed as one bill?

It is highly unlikely. Any eventual OECD agreement will probably be addressed by lawmakers on Capitol Hill in two separate parts. The agreement on a global minimum tax of 15 per cent, known as Pillar 2, will require lawmakers to change domestic tax legislation.

Giving countries new rights to tax large companies based on where they generate revenue, the so-called Pillar 1, is likely to be dealt with as a separate bill, because it alters Washington’s agreements with other countries, meaning the US must alter existing treaties or create new ones.

How many votes in the Senate does Biden need for the bills to pass?

Pillar 2, which changes US domestic legislation, could potentially be passed using the so-called reconciliation process. This can be used by US Congress once a fiscal year and bills passed by this route can clear the Senate with a simple majority. The upper chamber is split 50-50 between Democrats and Republicans, with US vice-president Kamala Harris casting the tiebreaking vote.

However, Pillar 1, which will probably require treaty changes, would need the support of at least 60 senators — that is 10 Republicans assuming there are no Democratic defections — under arcane “filibuster” rules that apply to most US legislation.

What are Biden’s chances of securing 60 votes in the Senate?

Exceedingly slim. Republican senators have lined up to criticise the fledgling agreement. John Barrasso, the second most senior Senate Republican, earlier this month slammed the plans as “anti-competitive, anti-US and harmful”. Pat Toomey, the most senior Republican on the powerful Senate banking committee, has called the plans “crazy”.

Mike Crapo, the top Republican on the Senate finance committee, has also criticised the deal, and has written to Treasury secretary Janet Yellen to express concern that the US is ceding the right to tax its own companies to foreign countries.

Can Biden find a way around this?

Possibly, but any attempt to circumvent the Senate is likely to be the subject of technical and legalistic arguments on Capitol Hill.

Manal Corwin, a former senior Treasury official in Barack Obama’s administration who now works at KPMG, said there could be a way to override existing treaties by passing both Pillar 1 and Pillar 2 using the reconciliation process.

Although under US law, domestic legislation and treaties are given equal weight, Corwin said, a provision known as the “last in time” rule allows new US legislation to override existing treaties.

Because the agreement would give the US the right to tax some large multinationals with annual revenue greater than €20bn and pre-tax profit margins of at least 10 per cent, the US tax code would need to be changed, Corwin added, with the secondary effect of overriding some treaties. 

“A treaty says ‘we would do this, if they would do that’, and we’re overriding that through a legislative vehicle that changes the Internal Revenue Code, which is eligible for reconciliation,” Corwin said. 

But Brian Jenn, another former Treasury official who has worked in both Democratic and Republican administrations, warned that passing legislation through the reconciliation process was subject to strict rules.

Efforts to pass legislation using this method are closely scrutinised by the Senate parliamentarian, who advises on the interpretation of the upper chamber’s rules and precedents. Earlier this year the parliamentarian, Elizabeth MacDonough, ruled that a federal minimum wage increase could not be included in Biden’s $1.9tn stimulus bill.

A bill “clearly overriding a treaty” may not be eligible for reconciliation either, said Jenn, who is now a partner at the law firm McDermott Will & Emery.

Efforts to override treaties using the reconciliation process would “likely offend even Democratic senators” prone to “jealously” guarding the upper chamber’s prerogative, Jenn added.

One European diplomat warned that if the US used “legal chicanery” to pass parts of the deal, it might “open itself [up] to a concerted political challenge” in Washington.

What has the Biden administration said about its strategy?

Not much. On Tuesday Treasury officials said they would need the support of Congress to pass the new deal, and that they expected Pillar 1 would require a treaty. Officials said the details were still being worked out, however, and that a detailed plan on how the US will implement the deal would be agreed in October. 

Separately, a person briefed on the tax negotiations said any discussion on how the US administration would pass the deal through Congress was “premature”.

“There is still a lot that needs to be worked out, and that includes how the administration will deal with Congress,” the person said.

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Carlos Brito brews up second act after 30 years at AB InBev

Carlos Brito, who stepped down from Anheuser-Busch InBev this week aged 61, is already planning a long second act. “Brito 2.0” could involve another quarter-century of working, said the Brazilian businessman who spent three decades at the brewer.

“My dad . . . was a vascular surgeon until he turned 86 . . . I have 25 years ahead of me, at least 25 years,” he said.

Brito built AB InBev from a Latin American regional player into by far the world’s largest brewing company, with brands including Budweiser and Stella Artois.

But his final years were overshadowed by his largest, most contentious deal, the £79bn takeover of rival SABMiller in 2016. AB InBev’s share price is more than 45 per cent below where it was when that deal completed, and it is still saddled with $83bn of debt.

AB InBev’s aggressive dealmaking defined an era of consolidation that cemented the dominance of a handful of global beer makers. Brito leaves the company — and the industry — transformed from when he joined what was then Brahma in 1989.

Trevor Stirling, an analyst at Bernstein, called him “one of the three titans that have shaped the modern brewing industry,” alongside former Heineken chief Jean-François van Boxmeer and the late SABMiller leader, Graham Mackay.

In many respects, Wall Street’s view of Brito’s legacy accords with the former chief executive’s own. “We started from one country in Latin America, one country in Europe, and we built a global brewer . . . one of the top three CPG [consumer packaged goods] companies in the world and the highest by profitability”, he said.

“He has clearly created a lot of value for his shareholders,” Stirling concurred.

With AB InBev rallying from the worst of the pandemic — it reported far better than expected first-quarter results — Brito has handed the reins to Michel Doukeris, a 25-year company veteran known for building up brands and digital sales. 

“He’s very competent; he’s better than me,” said Brito, citing his successor’s achievements in Mexico, Brazil, China and the US.

Doukeris’s career path reflects AB InBev’s evolution into a truly global company, which Brito argued would not have happened without the SABMiller deal. “It was the right thing to do,” he said, for a brewer that thinks “not only about the next few years but the next 50, 100 years”.

But he admitted Covid-19 had set back AB InBev’s debt-cutting plans by about two years, and he preferred to highlight the 2008 hostile takeover of Anheuser-Busch.

That bid came just before the global financial crisis hit. “We needed 10 banks on the closing date to come up with a couple of billion dollars each and some banks were just disappearing every day,” he recalled. But once AB InBev got that financing, “we never looked back”.

The age of brewing megadeals is over, Brito acknowledged, though smaller-scale dealmaking continues. That, analysts said, put more pressure on AB InBev to build brands and grow organically, although its scale has not always helped its agility.

One example is hard seltzer, the flavoured alcoholic fizzy water that has taken the US drinks market by storm. In 2016 AB InBev acquired the pioneering brand, SpikedSeltzer, only to be overtaken by new rivals White Claw and Truly; it still lags behind those brands, despite gaining market share this year, according to Bernstein. 

“I think sometimes, maybe, we took longer to embrace some changes,” Brito admitted, because the company’s size made it wary of cannibalising its huge existing profit drivers. 

Without acknowledging that the US beer market is in decline, he predicted that non-beer products such as hard seltzer would grow in importance. “What people call the fourth category, which is the blurring of beer, wine and spirits . . . endanger[s] a section of existing categories, legacy categories.”

Expectations of chief executives evolved as fast as drinking habits during Brito’s reign but he said AB InBev would not be “an activist company”, campaigning on issues outside its core remit.

“The biggest challenge today [is] that people think CEOs and companies need to have an opinion about everything,” he lamented.

Investors’ new focus on environmental, social and governance, or ESG, concerns might appear an uneasy fit with AB InBev’s embrace of zero-based budgeting. Yet Brito painted the 3G Capital-backed system in which every cost must be justified anew in each budgeting period as making for a greener company.

“Everybody . . . wants companies to manage waste so we minimise the impact on the planet. So, all of a sudden, efficiency became a cool thing,” he said.

Companies now needed to understand that their communities “only allow you to exist if you’re part of the solution”, he said: “The moment you’re portrayed as part of the problem, they’re not going to kill you but they’re going to regulate you, tax you, restrict your business.” 

Brito urged governments not to raise taxes on companies such as his to pay for their Covid-19 outlays, but to impose the burden on those that profited in the pandemic. 

“When they raise taxes to pay for Covid incentives and stuff, they should go after the companies that need to share their wealth because they have consumers that were pushed towards them,” he said. Some businesses tripled or quadrupled their market value: “We didn’t.”

Brito has not yet settled on his next move, but did not rule out another chief executive role, or working again with his mentor, 3G co-founder Jorge Paulo Lemann, who funded his education and hired him into banking in his 20s. 

The calls Brito received after announcing his departure suggested he would have “many options”, he said, and he planned to spend July and August returning them.

But he voiced little doubt this was the right time to relinquish the company he shaped. “We have to pass on the baton to a new generation, otherwise they’ll go elsewhere,” he said. “If the CEO stays forever, the machine doesn’t work.”


Elliott ratchets up pressure on Walmsley with call for change at GSK

Hedge fund Elliott Management has called on GlaxoSmithKline’s board to name new directors and launch a process to determine if chief executive Emma Walmsley is the right candidate to lead the UK drugmaker after a spin-off of its consumer division.

The demands form part of a series of recommendations sent to GSK and released publicly by Elliott on Thursday, in which the activist hedge fund criticises “years of under-management” for its poor share price performance.

The 17-page letter from Elliott marks the first public confirmation that it has built a significant shareholding in GSK, which has a market value of £71.5bn, since the Financial Times revealed in April that the hedge fund had taken a multibillion-pound stake.

“Allowing GSK’s long-term operational and share-price underperformance to persist without urgently taking appropriate measures would disappoint all with an interest in the company. The board must rise to the challenge and put forth a more ambitious plan to close the gap,” Elliott wrote to GSK chair Jonathan Symonds.

Bar chart of Total shareholder return since Apr 2017 (%) showing GSK has lagged peers under Walmsley

The calls for changes at GSK come as the UK drugmaker confirmed last week that it would press ahead with plans to separate its consumer health division next year, leaving a slimmed-down business focused entirely on biopharma.

While detailing those plans, Walmsley launched a robust defence of her leadership in which she sought to portray herself as a “change agent” committed to transforming the UK pharma group as it focused on investing in its drugs pipeline.

Walmsley, a former executive at L’Oréal who joined GSK in 2010 and took over as CEO in 2017, has faced questions over her experience in pharmaceuticals given her background in running consumer businesses.

After the investor update, GSK shares rose and analysts were broadly positive about the company’s stated goal of delivering annual sales growth of more than 5 per cent a year.

Elliott said in its letter that the investor update “was an important step in the right direction” but “it was not sufficient to resolve GSK’s credibility challenges”.

It told the GSK board to refresh its ranks, by immediately hiring independent directors with expertise in either biopharma or consumer health who would then break into committees to interview external and internal candidates.

“Elliott is not advocating a specific outcome but is arguing for a robust process, because it is critical that the board assure current and future shareholders that new leadership of both companies was selected through a credible process that conforms to corporate governance best practices.”

The FT reported earlier this month that some GSK shareholders have signalled that Elliott has privately sown doubt about whether Walmsley should stay after the spin-off.

Elliott also called on the board to evaluate any takeover offers for its consumer health division, in a sign that it may yet push for a sale of the unit ahead of the separation if a bid from private equity or an industry rival emerges.

Elliott added that the board should introduce stronger performance incentives, increase its long-term profit targets and avoid fully integrating its pharma and vaccines business.

Founded and run by Paul Singer in New York, Elliott manages roughly $42bn in assets and has built a reputation as a feared activist investor with campaigns at companies including AT&T, BHP and SoftBank.

Its investment in GSK is run out of its London office, managed by Singer’s son Gordon, and led by portfolio managers Mark Levine and Sebastien de La Riviere.

US launches air strikes on Iran-backed militia targets

The US has launched air strikes on the facilities of two Iran-backed militia groups on the border between Syria and Iraq, the second such attack by the Biden administration in four months.

The strikes risk stoking tensions in the region just over a week after Ebrahim Raisi, a hardliner, won Iran’s presidential election.

John Kirby, Pentagon press secretary, said operational and weapons storage facilities, which were being used to launch drone strikes against US troops and facilities, were targeted in Syria and Iraq. 

Kirby said the air strikes were “defensive” and a response to an “ongoing series of attacks by Iran-backed groups targeting US interests in Iraq”. He added that they were being used by several Iran-backed militias including Kata’ib Hizbollah and Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada.

“The United States took necessary, appropriate, and deliberate action designed to limit the risk of escalation — but also to send a clear and unambiguous deterrent message,” Kirby said.

President Joe Biden first ordered strikes against Iranian-backed militias on the Iraq-Syria border in February after a rocket attack in the northern Iraqi city of Erbil killed a civilian contractor and injured several others, including a member of the US military.

Iraq is home to myriad militant groups that are backed by Iran and which regularly launch rocket and drone attacks against Iraqi bases hosting US troops and American facilities in the country. 

The attacks have increased in frequency after the Trump administration assassinated Qassem Soleimani, Iran’s most powerful commander, and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, a senior Iraqi militia leader, in a US drone strike near Baghdad airport in January 2020.

Saeed Khatibzadeh, spokesman for Iran’s foreign ministry, said the Biden administration was heading in the wrong direction and following the “failed” policies of its previous president. He added that the US was “disrupting security in the region”, warning that it would be “one of the victims of such disruptions”.

“We recommend that the new US government reform its path instead of [following] such emotional behaviours, creating crisis . . . problems and dilemmas for people in the region,” Khatibzadeh told reporters in his weekly press conference on Monday. 

The declared aim of many of the militant groups is to avenge the deaths of Soleimani and Muhandis — heroes to Shia militias. After Soleimani’s death, Iran vowed to drive US forces out of the region.

There are about 2,500 American troops based in Iraq, where US and Iran rivalries play out. 

The US strikes on Sunday followed the election of Raisi, a conservative cleric and judiciary chief, which gave regime hardliners control of all branches of the Islamic republic for the first time in almost a decade. Raisi takes up the presidency in August.

The attack comes at a sensitive time as the Biden administration and world powers seek to secure an agreement with Iran that will lead to the US rejoining the 2015 nuclear accord Tehran signed with world powers.

The deal’s remaining signatories — the UK, Germany, France, China and Russia — have held several rounds of talks in Vienna to revive the agreement.

Hostilities between the US and Iran escalated after the Trump administration unilaterally withdrew from the deal in 2018 and imposed waves of sanctions on the Islamic republic.

Biden has said the US will rejoin the deal and lift many sanctions if Iran returns to full compliance with the agreement. Tehran insists the US must lift all sanctions.

But the Biden administration is also under pressure from US politicians, Israel and Washington’s Arab partners to take a tough line on Iran’s support for regional militias and its missile programme. Iran has vowed not to roll back its support for regional militias or curb expansive missile programmes even if it means the US does not lift sanctions.

Panasonic offloads Tesla stake for $3.6bn

Panasonic has sold its entire stake in longstanding battery partner Tesla for about ¥400bn ($3.6bn) as it seeks to raise cash to finance its biggest-ever overseas acquisition.

The Japanese conglomerate, which has a $5bn joint battery manufacturing venture with Tesla in Nevada, said the sale would not affect its partnership with the US electric vehicle maker.

But the move comes after Panasonic made it clear that it wanted to reduce its heavy reliance on Tesla and supply batteries to other carmakers as the industry shifts to electric vehicles to reduce its carbon footprint.

The Japanese group acquired 1.4m Tesla shares at $21.15 each in 2010 for about $30m. As of March last year, it held shares worth ¥80.9bn, but that stake was reduced to zero by the end of this past March, according to a filing on Friday. During those 12 months, Tesla’s stock rose more than six-fold. It closed at $679.82 on Thursday.

“The purpose is to review strategically-held shares following the corporate governance guidelines,” the company said in an emailed statement. “It does not affect the partnership with Tesla and we continue to maintain good relationships.”

Since the 2010 investment, Elon Musk has transformed Tesla from a cash-strapped, lossmaking start-up to the world’s most valuable carmaker worth $655bn — almost 23 times bigger than Panasonic’s market value, even after shares closed 4.9 per cent higher on Friday.

While Panasonic used to be Tesla’s sole battery supplier, the US group has begun developing its own batteries and adding to its purchasing partners with South Korea’s LG Chem and China’s CATL to support growing sales of its vehicles. 

For Panasonic, its $2bn-plus investment in the joint battery manufacturing venture has finally started to pay off, as the Japanese group eked out its first annual profit from Tesla’s battery business for the fiscal year that ended in March. 

But the Japanese conglomerate has been expanding investment in other areas to strengthen its position in software. In April, it announced a $7.1bn deal to buy US supply chain specialist Blue Yonder.

In an interview in March, Panasonic chair Kazuhiro Tsuga told the Financial Times that the group’s partnership with Tesla was entering “a different phase”.

“At some point, we need to graduate from our one-legged approach of relying solely on Tesla,” Tsuga said. “We need to keep an eye on supplying manufacturers other than Tesla.”

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Facebook stumbles in virtual reality advert push after first gaming partner quits

Facebook’s first partner for advertising in its virtual reality headset has pulled out of the initiative less than a week after it was announced after a backlash from the gaming community. 

The world’s largest social media platform said last Wednesday that it planned to start testing advertising in Oculus, its popular virtual reality gaming headset, with commercials running in the shooting game Blaston and “a couple other developers”.

But Blaston, a title from Resolution Games, ditched the plan on Monday, following a deluge of complaints from users. “After listening to player feedback, we realize that Blaston isn’t the best fit for this type of advertising test. Therefore, we no longer plan to implement the test,” it said on Twitter.

Dozens of users had posted one-star reviews of Blaston in protest against the proposed test with Facebook, arguing, for example, that paid-for games should not suddenly bombard users with ads, according to media reports.

Facebook did not respond to a request for comment on the decision. In last week’s statement, it said headset wearers would have controls to hide particular ads or hide ads from a particular advertiser.

Blaston’s decision is embarrassing for Facebook as it tries to grow its virtual reality business by adding advertising dollars to its hardware revenues. Last month, the company said it had started testing advertisements in the Oculus mobile app. 

The company has invested heavily in both virtual reality, where headsets block out the real world, and augmented reality, where images are overlaid on to the real world — taking on Apple and Snap in a bid to build the next-generation computing platform. All three companies are racing to build augmented reality glasses.

At the VivaTech conference last week, Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg said the company now had 10,000 people working across both virtual and augmented reality. “We’re investing billions and billions and billions of dollars to build something that we think will contribute to a compelling future five to 10 years from now,” he said.

The idea of introducing advertising to virtual reality has long been rejected by some gamers. After selling Oculus to Facebook in 2014 for about $2bn, founder Palmer Luckey said that the company would be able to continue to operate with autonomy from its new parent company, adding: “We are not going to track you, flash ads at you, or do anything invasive.”

Later on Monday, Blaston said in a tweet that as an alternative to its test, Resolution Games was “looking to see if it is feasible to move this small, temporary test” to its free fish-catching game Bait.

Conservative cleric Raisi wins Iran presidential vote by a landslide

Ebrahim Raisi, a conservative cleric and judiciary chief, has won Iran’s presidential election, in a landslide victory that will give regime hardliners full control over all branches of the state for the first time in almost a decade.

Raisi, who many Iranians believe was the favoured candidate of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader, secured almost 18m votes after 90 per cent of ballots in Friday’s election were counted.

His closest rival, Mohsen Rezaei, a senior conservative general, garnered just 3.3m votes, while the sole reformist candidate, Abdolnaser Hemmati, a former central bank governor, took 2.4m.

The cleric’s victory means that hardliners, who won a sweeping majority in parliamentary elections last year and control the judiciary and the military, are now at their most powerful since 2013. Reformists, who favour greater engagement with the west, have been pushed to the margins.

The election was held at a critical time for the Islamic republic and the region. The Biden administration is seeking to ease tension in the Middle East, which was inflamed by Donald Trump’s decision in 2018 to unilaterally withdraw the US from the nuclear accord with Iran and impose sanctions on the nation.

Raisi has said his government would continue negotiations with the deal’s remaining signatories — the UK, France, Germany, Russia and China.

But hardliners will want to negotiate on their own terms as the second and final term of President Hassan Rouhani’s centrist government ends in August. The election of Raisi, who has headed the judiciary for the past two years and was the subject of sanctions by the Trump administration in 2019, as it targeted dozens of senior regime officials, risks complicating those talks.

Raisi’s victory means that Iran will be even more unlikely to rein in its support for militant groups across the region or curb its expansive missile programme.

President Joe Biden has promised to rejoin the nuclear agreement if Tehran falls back into full compliance with the deal. But his administration is under pressure from US politicians, Israel and Washington’s Arab partners to take a tough line on Iran’s support for militias and its missile programme.

Raisi has said domestic policies would be his priority. He faces the daunting task of reviving an economy crippled by sanctions and the coronavirus pandemic, festering social pressures and a deep sense of disillusionment with the theocratic system among many Iranians.

The schisms in society were underscored by the turnout.

Iranian media reported that conservatives voted in large numbers. But Iranians who want reform registered their disillusionment with the theocratic system by staying at home, in what pro-democracy activists described as an act of civil disobedience.

A low turnout would undermine the popular legitimacy Iran’s leaders seek to claim from elections at a time when the gap between the regime’s ideology and policies, and the aspirations of the youthful population is widening.

Conservative analysts said Raisi would probably be closer to Khamenei’s thinking than Rouhani, who wanted to use the nuclear deal to re-engage with the west before Trump imposed his “maximum pressure” campaign.

Unlike his predecessor, Raisi will not attempt to diminish the role of the powerful Revolutionary Guards, which dominate overseas military operations and control a sprawling economic empire at home.

“Raisi’s background in the judiciary tells us that he is obedient to the ones above him but very strict with those junior to him,” said a reformist politician.

“Two good years in the judiciary is similar to a rosy engagement period. From now on, it’s like after marriage that comes with all the realities and disappointments.”

Raisi has made few comments on foreign policy and has said his focus will be on boosting Iran’s industrial production and easing the economic pressures on Iranians.

Conservatives hope he will bring unity to the ruling system after Rouhani’s final term was blighted by bitter internal clashes. Trump’s hostility towards Iran emboldened hardliners who blamed the centrist government and its reformist backers for trusting the US.

But reformers worry that the hardliners’ victory will exacerbate the country’s problems and set back any lingering hopes of gradual reform.

“Reformists need to get prepared for a tough political era . . . and not to succumb to this result,” said Abbas Abdi, a reformist commentator.

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Biden vows to tell Putin ‘what the red lines are’ at Geneva talks

US president Joe Biden and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin will meet in Geneva on Wednesday for talks aimed at arresting a rapid decline in relations between two countries beset by mutual distrust.

In their first face-to-face meeting as leaders, the presidents will grapple with accusations, complaints and charges against one another, including alleged Russian cyber attacks and election meddling, US sanctions against Moscow and the Kremlin’s misgivings over Nato military expansion in eastern Europe.

Other irritants in the relationship are torn-up arms control agreements, war in Ukraine and Moscow’s jailing of opposition activist Alexei Navalny, leaving few obvious areas of co-operation.

Biden has described Putin as a “worthy adversary” ahead of his meeting and said he was going to clarify to the Russian leader “what the red lines are”.

He said Russia was seeking to drive a wedge in transatlantic solidarity and that the US was experiencing an increase in malicious cyber activity.

“I’m going to make clear to President Putin that there are areas where we can co-operate, if he chooses,” Biden said on Monday. “And if he chooses not to co-operate and acts in a way that he has in the past, relative to cyber security and some other activities, then we will respond. We will respond in kind.”

The summit is scheduled to begin at 1pm Geneva time and could last as long as five hours, including breaks and talks between the two delegations, the Kremlin said on Tuesday. The presidents will meet in two formats: one a small group including the US secretary of state and Russia’s foreign minister and the other in a larger setting.

Biden travelled to Geneva after a week in Europe meeting G7, EU and Nato allies. The response to threats posed by Russia was continually raised in talks with western leaders. The US president said world leaders had thanked him for holding the summit, which some analysts have criticised as handing Putin a diplomatic victory.

Moscow has sought to play down expectations of any major breakthroughs at the talks. Analysts on both sides suggested that by simply taking place, the meeting could at the very least mark a post-cold war nadir in the bilateral relationship.

Putin’s foreign affairs adviser Yuri Ushakov described relations between Moscow and Washington as “dire.” “I think that both sides understand that it is time to start tackling this backlog that has piled up,” he told Russian news agencies.

The White House and the Kremlin have both said they will focus on arms control, cyber security and climate change. The US wants to discuss human rights, co-operation on Iran and Afghanistan and Washington’s support for the territorial integrity of Ukraine, where Russia massed 100,000 troops earlier this year.

Kremlin officials said that the talks will also feature a potential exchange of citizens held in each others’ prisons.

Ambassadors posted to both countries left their posts earlier in the year after a chain of events prompted by Biden agreeing with an interviewer that Putin was a “killer”. Both ambassadors are expected to return to their seats in Moscow and Washington following the summit, according to three people familiar with the plans.

While he acceded to Russian requests over diplomatic choreography following the meeting — which might suggest a thaw in relations — Biden will conduct a solo press conference rather than make a joint appearance with Putin.

In 2018, Donald Trump gave a joint press conference with Putin in which the US leader appeared to side with his Russian counterpart over that of his own intelligence community.