Trump con­fronts Putin on elec­tion hack­ing in first meet­ing

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - WORLD -

U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump opened his first meet­ing with Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin on Fri­day by rais­ing U.S. con­cerns about Moscow’s med­dling in the 2016 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, U.S. Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son said. He said Putin de­nied be­ing in­volved.

Trump’s de­ci­sion to con­front Putin di­rectly over elec­tion in­ter­fer­ence ful­filled ar­dent de­mands by U.S. law­mak­ers of both par­ties that the pres­i­dent not shy away from the is­sue in his highly an­tic­i­pated meet­ing with Putin. Trump has avoided stat­ing un­equiv­o­cally in the past that Rus­sia in­ter­fered, even as in­ves­ti­ga­tions pro­ceed into whether Trump’s cam­paign col­luded with Rus­sians who sought to help him win.

“I think the pres­i­dent is rightly fo­cused on how do we move for­ward from some­thing that may be an in­tractable dis­agree­ment at this point,” Tiller­son said.

Both Trump and Putin ap­peared de­ter­mined not to let the is­sue ob­struct fu­ture co­op­er­a­tion, though their aides of­fered dif­fer­ing de­scrip­tions of where they left the mat­ter at the con­clu­sion of their meet­ing, which spanned more than two hours.

Rus­sian For­eign Min­is­ter Sergey Lavrov, who at­tended the meet­ing along with Tiller­son, said Trump ac­cepted Putin’s as­sur­ances that Rus­sia didn’t med­dle in the U.S. elec­tion. But Tiller­son said the Rus­sians had asked for “proof and ev­i­dence” of its in­volve­ment. A day ear­lier, Trump had said Rus­sia prob­a­bly med­dled but that other coun­tries likely did, too.

On one point, Putin and Trump agreed, Tiller­son said: The is­sue has be­come a hin­drance to bet­ter re­la­tions be­tween the two pow­ers. Speak­ing to re­porters af­ter the meet­ing, Tiller­son said the dis­cus­sion about the elec­tion med­dling was “ro­bust and lengthy.”

Tiller­son said the two lead­ers had agreed to con­tinue the dis­cus­sion, with an eye to­ward se­cur­ing a com­mit­ment that Rus­sia won’t in­ter­fere in U.S. af­fairs in the fu­ture.

In their meet­ing, the two also dis­cussed a ceasefire deal for south­west­ern Syria that was reached by Rus­sia and the United States and first re­ported Fri­day by The As­so­ci­ated Press. Though the U.S. and Rus­sia have held con­flict­ing views on Syria in the past, Tiller­son said Rus­sia had an in­ter­est in see­ing the Mideast na­tion be­come a sta­ble place.

Though Tiller­son said de­tails about the ceasefire need to be worked out, Lavrov said that Rus­sian mil­i­tary po­lice will mon­i­tor the ceasefire, with a mon­i­tor­ing cen­tre set up in Jor­dan — an­other party to the deal.

Both the Rus­sians and the Amer­i­cans took pains to de­scribe the meet­ing as “con­struc­tive,” cor­dial and wide-rang­ing, cov­er­ing key top­ics in­clud­ing cy­ber se­cu­rity and North Korea. Still, Tiller­son said no next meet­ing for Putin and Trump had been sched­uled.

“The two lead­ers con­nected very quickly. There was a very clear pos­i­tive chem­istry,” said Tiller­son. The for­mer Exxon Mo­bil CEO has done busi­ness in Rus­sia and is one of the only se­nior mem­bers of Trump’s ad­min­is­tra­tion who has prior ex­pe­ri­ence deal­ing with Putin.

The meet­ing, orig­i­nally sched­uled for 35 min­utes, clocked in at 2 hours and 16 min­utes.

“There was so much to talk about,” said Tiller­son. “Nei­ther one of them wanted to stop.”

AP PHOTO

U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump greets Rus­sian For­eign Min­is­ter Sergey Lavrov prior his talks with Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin dur­ing the G20 sum­mit in Ham­burg Ger­many, Fri­day.

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