Trump, Putin in ‘robust’ first meeting at G20
US President Donald Trump and Russian leader Vladimir Putin engaged in a “very robust exchange” over claims Moscow meddled in America’s elections, during their first face-to-face talks Friday at the G20 summit. From the outset of the blockbuster encounter, the US property tycoon fired the key question that has weighed on his presidency, pressing the ex-KGB agent “on more than one occasion” on the vote interference claims, said Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who was in the meeting.
But Tillerson’s counterpart Sergei Lavrov quickly added that Trump “accepted” Putin’s denial of Moscow’s role in propelling him to the White House, after hearing the Russian out. Over the course of two hours and 15 minutes of talks that covered not only the damaging claims but also a slew of global crises including the Syrian war, the two leaders clearly engaged, said Tillerson.
“Let me characterize: The meeting was very constructive, the two leaders I would say, connected very quickly,” said Tillerson, adding “there was a very clear positive chemistry between the two”. “There are so many issues on the table... Just about everything got touched upon... Neither one of them wanted to stop,” he said. “I believe they even sent in the (US) First Lady at one point to see if she could get us out of there, but that didn’t work either... We did another hour. Clearly she failed!”
On the presidential election campaign trail last year, Trump said he hoped relations with Putin could be rebuilt after Russia’s acrimonious ties with his predecessor Barack Obama. But the billionaire had faced increasing pressure to take a tough line on Russia after allegations it interfered in the vote. In the talks on the sidelines of the G20 summit, Trump pressed Putin on the issue, “and then... felt like at this point, let’s talk about how do we go forward,” said Tillerson. “I think that was the right place to spend our time, rather than spending a lot of time having a disagreement that everybody knows we have a disagreement,” added the secretary of state.
But Senate Democratic leader Charles Schumer ripped into Tillerson over the case. “For Secretary Tillerson to say that this issue will remain unresolved is disgraceful - to give equal credence to the findings of the American intelligence community and the assertion by Mr Putin is a grave dereliction of duty and will only encourage Russia to further interfere in our elections in the future,” he warned. Yesterday, Trump said that the tete-a-tete was “tremendous”, while Putin told reporters he expects Russian-US cooperation will improve under Trump and that the American is “very different” in real life. “The Trump that you see on TV is very different than the real Trump,” Putin said. “He perfectly understands whom he is talking to and answers questions quickly. I think personal relations were established.”
Putin said he was positive about repairing US-Russian relations, which plunged during the era of president Barack Obama. “There is every reason to believe that we will be able to at least partially re-establish the level of cooperation that we need,” Putin told a news conference. “I very much hope (for an improvement in relations) and it seems to me that some basis for this has already been created,” Putin said.
Putin said that in particular the US appeared to be less rigid on the war on Syria, where Moscow backs President Bashar Al-Assad and Washington has sided with rebel groups. “It seems to me that the US position (on Syria) has become more pragmatic. There is a comprehension that if we combine our efforts, we can achieve a lot,” the Russian president said.