Trump, Putin in ‘ro­bust’ first meet­ing at G20

Kuwait Times - - FRONT PAGE -

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.

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