Trump confronts Putin over US election hacking, then forges deal on Syria ceasefire at G20
The two world leaders met after months of controversy surrounding Russian meddling in the US presidential election and Syrian conflict involvement
President Donald Trump confronted Russian President Vladimir Putin directly on Friday over Moscow’s meddling in the 2016 presidential campaign, as the two leaders sought to use their historic first meeting to move past the issue and forge closer cooperation on Syria at the G20 summit.
In a two-hours-plus meeting in Germany, Trump and Putin had a “robust and lengthy” discussion about the interference, though Putin denied involvement, said Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
His Russian counterpart, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, said Trump had accepted Putin’s assurances that Russia didn’t meddle in the US election, a divergent description of the conversation that illustrated each country’s effort to show its leader had held his ground.
“I think the president is rightly focused on how do we move forward from something that may be an intractable disagreement at this point,” said Tillerson, who took part in the meeting along with Lavrov.
The meeting also yielded an agreement for a cease-fire in southwest Syria.
Trump had said he wanted to find ways to work with Putin, a goal made more difficult by sharp differences over Russia’s actions in Syria and Ukraine, and allegations Moscow meddled in the 2016 US presidential election.
As the meeting began in Germany, the pair exchanged pleasantries, with Trump telling reporters he looked forward to “very positive things happening” for the two countries.
“A cease-fire has been entered into,” Tillerson told reporters in Hamburg, the site of the Group of 20 summit where Trump and Putin met. This is the “first indication of the US and Russia being able to work together in Syria,” he said.
“Putin and I have been discussing various things, and I think it’s going very well,” Trump said, sitting alongside Putin. “We’ve had some very, very good talks. We’re going to have a talk now and obviously that will continue.”
Putin, through a translator, said a phone conversation is never enough and their meeting was an important bilateral.
“I am delighted to meet you personally,” Putin said.
The two men met earlier at an informal gathering of G20 leaders. During the initial encounter, the US president reinforced their handshake by patting the Russian leader on the arm and later on the back.
“I look forward to all meetings today with world leaders, including my meeting with Vladimir Putin. Much to discuss,” Trump wrote in a tweet on Friday. “I will represent our country well and fight for its interests!”
Putin and Trump’s meeting followed a G20 working session on climate and energy. The US president has angered world leaders with his decision to pull the United States out of the Paris climate accord.
Some feared the Republican president, a political novice whose team is still developing its Russia policy, was less prepared for the sit-down than Putin, who has dealt with the past two US presidents.
I will represent our country well and fight for its interests! Fake News Media will never cover me accurately but who cares! We will #MAGA!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 7, 2017
“There’s nothing ... the Kremlin would like to see more than a (US) president who will settle for a grip and a grin and walk away saying that he had this fabulous meeting with the Kremlin autocrat,” Representative Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House of Representatives’ Intelligence Committee, told MSNBC.
As investigations in the US continue into whether there was any collusion between Trump’s presidential campaign and Russia, the president has come under pressure to take a hard line against the Kremlin.
Moscow has denied any interference and Trump has said his campaign did not collude with Russia.
On Thursday, Trump won praise from at least one Republican hawk in the US Congress after a speech in Warsaw in which he urged Russia to stop its “destabilising activities” and end its support for Syria and Iran. The remarks were among Trump’s sharpest about Moscow since becoming president, though they stopped short of any personal criticism of Putin.
“This is a great start to an important week of American foreign policy,” said Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, who has often been critical of Trump on security issues.
Putin had been fully briefed about Trump’s description of Moscow’s behaviour as destabilising, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, adding he would take that and other remarks by US officials into account.
Still, Trump declined on Thursday to say definitively whether he believed US intelligence officials’ assertion that Russia had interfered in the 2016 US election.
“I think it was Russia but I think it was probably other people and/or countries, and I see nothing wrong with that statement. Nobody really knows. Nobody really knows for sure,” Trump told a Warsaw news conference.
Ahead of Trump’s meeting with Putin, three US senators wrote to Trump to express “deep concern” about reports that his administration planned to discuss the return to Russia of diplomatic compounds in Maryland and New York that were seized by the Obama administration last year in response to alleged Russian election meddling.
Republican Senators Johnny Isakson and Marco Rubio and Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen said returning the facilities would “embolden” Putin and encourage further efforts by Russia to interfere in Western elections. All three are on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
The White House declined to offer details on what Trump would request of Putin and what he might offer in exchange for cooperation.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Trump wanted to talk about how the two countries can work together to stabilise war-ravaged Syria.
“The United States is prepared to explore the possibility of establishing with Russia joint mechanisms for ensuring stability, including no-fly zones, on-the-ground ceasefire observers, and coordinated delivery of humanitarian assistance,” Tillerson said before leaving the US to join Trump in Germany.