No grand bar­gain; some con­fu­sion

Ac­counts dif­fer as to what was said — and ac­cepted — about elec­tion in­ter­fer­ence

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By Damian Paletta, David Filipov and Abby Phillip

HAM­BURG, GER­MANY» Eight months af­ter an un­prece­dented U.S. elec­tion — one that U.S. in­tel­li­gence agen­cies say the Rus­sian gov­ern­ment tried to sway — Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump and Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin sat for their first meet­ing Fri­day, a friendly en­counter that ended in con­fu­sion over whether Trump ac­cepted as­sur­ances that the Krem­lin was in­no­cent of any wrong­do­ing dur­ing the cam­paign.

Trump, be­lieved to be the in­tended ben­e­fi­ciary of the Rus­sian med­dling, emerged from the ex­tra­or­di­nary meet­ing — which dragged so long that Trump’s wife tried once to break it up — with a deal in­clud­ing Rus­sia and Jor­dan on a par­tial Syr­ian cease-fire. The agree­ment would mark the first time Wash­ing­ton and Moscow had op­er­ated to­gether in Syria to try to re­duce the vi­o­lence.

But there were no grand bar­gains on U.S. sanc­tions on Rus­sia, the Ukraine cri­sis or the other is­sues that have di­vided the pow­er­ful na­tions for years.

The meet­ing, on the side­lines of the Group of Twenty sum­mit, opened with Trump telling Putin it was an “honor to be with you.” In the closed-door dis­cus­sion, Trump pressed Putin “on more than one oc­ca­sion” on Rus­sia’s in­ter­fer­ence in the 2016 pres­i­den­tial elec­tions, Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son, who at­tended the two-hour, 16-minute meet­ing, told re­porters.

Tiller­son said “Pres­i­dent Putin de­nied such in­volve­ment” but agreed to or­ga­nize talks “re­gard­ing com­mit­ments of non­in­ter­fer­ence in the af­fairs of the United States and our demo­cratic process.”

But Tiller­son’s coun­ter­part, Rus­sian For­eign Min­is­ter Sergei Lavrov, said that Trump had heard out Putin’s as­sur­ances that Moscow did not run a hack­ing and dis­in­for­ma­tion ef­fort, and dis­missed the en­tire in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the Rus­sian role.

“Pres­i­dent Trump said that this cam­paign has taken on a rather strange char­ac­ter, be­cause af­ter many months, when-

ever th­ese ac­cu­sa­tions are made, no facts are brought,” Lavrov told Rus­sian re­porters. “The U.S. pres­i­dent said that he heard clear state­ments from Pres­i­dent Putin about this be­ing un­true, and that he ac­cepted th­ese state­ments.”

The two pres­i­dents, he said, are “look­ing for mu­tu­ally ben­e­fi­cial agree­ments and not try­ing to act out some con­fronta­tion sce­nar­ios, not try­ing to cre­ate prob­lems out of noth­ing.”

U.S. law­mak­ers from both par­ties had urged Trump to raise the elec­tion med­dling with Putin. But Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., the Se­nate mi­nor­ity leader, dis­missed the out­come as “dis­grace­ful.”

“Pres­i­dent Trump had an obli­ga­tion to bring up Rus­sia’s in­ter­fer­ence in our elec­tion with Putin, but he has an equal obli­ga­tion to take the word of our In­tel­li­gence Com­mu­nity rather than that of the Rus­sian Pres­i­dent,” Schumer said in a state­ment.

Be­fore the meet­ing, an­a­lysts in Moscow and Wash­ing­ton had said that any sig­nal from Trump that Moscow and Wash­ing­ton can put aside past dif­fer­ences and forge a new re­la­tion­ship would be a vic­tory for Putin. In Moscow, po­lit­i­cal lead­ers were cel­e­brat­ing Fri­day night.

“In some sense it’s a break­through,” Kon­stantin Kosachyov, chair­man of the for­eign re­la­tions com­mit­tee in the up­per house of the Rus­sian par­lia­ment. “Ab­so­lutely def­i­nitely psy­cho­log­i­cally, and pos­si­bly, prac­ti­cally.”

Valentina Matviyenko, speaker of the up­per house, is­sued a state­ment say­ing that “there is no doubt that this meet­ing may be­come a step to­ward the so­lu­tion to the sit­u­a­tion in which the re­la­tions be­tween our states cur­rently are.”

The world had waited for the first in-per­son en­counter be­tween the pres­i­dent whose cam­paign was fac­ing an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into pos­si­ble col­lu­sion with Rus­sia in the elec­tion med­dling, and the Krem­lin leader who al­legedly in­ter­vened in Trump’s fa­vor. But the pres­i­dents seemed in­tent on mov­ing the re­la­tion­ship for­ward.

Trump told Putin that mem­bers of Congress were push­ing for ad­di­tional sanc­tions against Rus­sia over the elec­tion is­sue, Tiller­son said. “But the two pres­i­dents I think rightly fo­cused on how do we move for­ward?” he added.

Trump and Putin des­ig­nated top of­fi­cials to col­lab­o­rate on the creation of a frame­work that will pre­vent fu­ture po­lit­i­cal in­ter­fer­ence, Tiller­son said, as part of a bi­lat­eral com­mis­sion that would also dis­cus­sion coun­tert­er­ror­ism and res­o­lu­tion of the con­flict in Ukraine.

The meet­ing lasted much longer than ex­pected. At one point, Trump’s wife, Me­la­nia, en­tered the room to try to see if it could wrap up soon, but it con­tin­ued much longer.

The mood was ge­nial as Putin and Trump, sit­ting side by side, ad­dressed re­porters be­fore the meet­ing.

“We look for­ward to a lot of very pos­i­tive hap­pen­ings for Rus­sia and for the United States and for ev­ery­one con­cerned,” Trump said.

Putin, re­fer­ring to the phone con­ver­sa­tions the two pres­i­dents have had, said that “phone con­ver­sa­tions are never enough def­i­nitely.”

“I’m very glad to be able to meet you per­son­ally,” Putin said. “And I hope that, as you have said, our meet­ings will yield pos­i­tive re­sults.”

In two tweets ear­lier Fri­day, Trump said he was look­ing for­ward to the meet­ing, and that “I will rep­re­sent our coun­try well and fight for its in­ter­ests!”

Putin and Trump did not ap­pear to re­solve the Krem­lin’s de­mand that the United States hand back two com­pounds that the pre­vi­ous ad­min­is­tra­tion seized in late De­cem­ber in re­tal­i­a­tion for Rus­sia’s ac­tions in the U.S. cam­paign.

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion had al­ready in­di­cated it might re­turn those com­pounds, which the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion said were be­ing used to gather in­tel­li­gence. But Trump is fac­ing bi­par­ti­san op­po­si­tion at home to not make con­ces­sions to what many in Wash­ing­ton see as an ad­ver­sary in­tent on weak­en­ing demo­cratic in­sti­tu­tions and di­min­ish­ing U.S. global lead­er­ship.

The Se­nate re­cently voted 97 to 2 in fa­vor of a Rus­sian sanc­tions amend­ment to the Iran sanc­tions bill that “would re­quire strict con­gres­sional re­view of any de­ci­sion to over­turn or lift ex­ist­ing poli­cies on Rus­sia, in­clud­ing the re­turn of th­ese two dachas, and would im­pose new sanc­tions to de­ter Rus­sian ag­gres­sion against the U.S. and its al­lies.”

In a speech in Poland, Trump gave mixed sig­nals on the eve of the sum­mit, urg­ing Rus­sia “to cease its desta­bi­liz­ing ac­tiv­i­ties in Ukraine and else­where, and its sup­port for hos­tile regimes in­clud­ing Syria and Iran.”

Trump also re­peated a po­si­tion shared by Putin, say­ing that “no­body re­ally knows” who was be­hind the hack­ing dur­ing the U.S. pres­i­den­tial cam­paign, and ques­tion­ing U.S. in­tel­li­gence agen­cies’ af­fir­ma­tion of Rus­sia’s in­volve­ment be­cause they were wrong about whether Iraq pos­sessed weapons of mass de­struc­tion in 2003.

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump shakes hands with Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin be­fore their pri­vate meet­ing Fri­day at the Group of Twenty sum­mit in Ham­burg, Ger­many. Trump said he was hon­ored to meet Putin.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.