Trump can­cels meet­ing with Putin as he heads to G-20

Star-Telegram - - Nation & World - BY ANNE GEARAN AND JOHN WAG­NER

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump on Thurs­day can­celed a one-on-one meet­ing with Rus­sian leader Vladimir Putin at the Group of 20 sum­mit in Ar­gentina, a de­ci­sion he an­nounced just hours after the Krem­lin had pub­licly con­firmed the time and date.

In a tweet from Air Force One en route to Buenos Aires, Trump blamed the can­cel­la­tion on Rus­sia’s seizure of Ukrainian ships and sailors in the Black Sea over the week­end. Other top ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials, in­clud­ing U.N. Am­bas­sador Nikki Ha­ley, had con­demned Rus­sia’s ac­tions, but Trump had equiv­o­cated in re­cent days.

Trump had sig­naled in an in­ter­view with the Wash­ing­ton Post on Tues­day that he might forgo meet­ing Putin after Rus­sia’s naval ac­tion sparked global con­dem­na­tion and a sharp es­ca­la­tion in ten­sions be­tween Rus­sia and Ukraine.

But he seemed to re­verse course as he left the White House on Thurs­day, telling re­porters that the meet­ing “prob­a­bly” was still on and that he planned to read a “fi­nal­ized re­port” on the Black Sea stand­off while on the plane.

Early in the flight, how­ever, Trump tweeted: “Based on the fact that the ships and sailors have not been re­turned to Ukraine from Rus­sia, I have de­cided it would be best for all par­ties con­cerned to can­cel my pre­vi­ously sched­uled meet­ing in Ar­gentina with Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin.”

“I look for­ward to a mean­ing­ful Sum­mit again as soon as this sit­u­a­tion is re­solved!” Trump added.

Trump’s de­ci­sion was cheered by Ukrainian Pres­i­dent Petro Poroshenko. He later took to Twit­ter and wrote in English: “This is how great lead­ers act!”

White House press sec­re­tary Sarah Sanders told re­porters on Air Force One that Trump did not make a de­ci­sion un­til talk­ing on board with Chief of Staff John Kelly and Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo, as well as by phone with na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser John Bolton, who is in Brazil.

Sanders said she was “not aware” whether Trump had di­rectly in­formed Putin of the can­cel­la­tion but said “there was some back and forth” through other chan­nels, with­out elab­o­rat­ing.

Sanders also told re­porters that Trump’s sched­uled meet­ings at the G-20 with South Korean Pres­i­dent Moon Jae-in and Turk­ish Pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan would be down­graded to more in­for­mal “pull-aside” con­ver­sa­tions.

That an­nounce­ment ap­peared to sur­prise South Korean and Turk­ish of­fi­cials and left them scram­bling to find out more.

“A bi­lat­eral meet­ing will hap­pen be­tween the two pres­i­dents in Buenos Aires on the mar­gins of the G-20 sum­mit, as planned and as pre­vi­ously agreed,” one Turk­ish of­fi­cial said, speak­ing on the con­di­tion of anonymity be­cause of the sen­si­tive na­ture of the ne­go­ti­a­tions. “We are not aware of any can­cel­la­tion or down­grad­ing.”

Trump’s sched­uled meet­ings with the lead­ers of Ar­gentina, China, Ja­pan, In­dia and Ger­many ap­pear to still be mov­ing for­ward as planned.

Ear­lier Thurs­day, Krem­lin spokesman Dmitry Peskov had told re­porters in Moscow that the meet­ing be­tween Trump and Putin would take place Satur­day around noon.

“We are ex­pect­ing the two pres­i­dents to speak briefly at first, but ev­ery­thing is left to the dis­cre­tion of the heads of state, Peskov said.

“Wash­ing­ton has con­firmed,” he added.

Fol­low­ing Trump’s tweet, Peskov told Rus­sia’s Tass state news agency that the Krem­lin had not been in­formed sep­a­rately by the White House of the can­cel­la­tion.

“If this is in­deed the case, the pres­i­dent will have a cou­ple of ad­di­tional hours in his sched­ule for use­ful meet­ings on the side­lines of the sum­mit,” Peskov said of Putin.

A Putin meet­ing would have come at a highly sen­si­tive time for Trump po­lit­i­cally, with spe­cial coun­sel Robert Muller’s probe of Rus­sian elec­tion in­ter­fer­ence in­ten­si­fy­ing back home.

Shortly be­fore Trump de­parted the White House on Thurs­day, his for­mer per­sonal at­tor­ney Michael Co­hen pleaded guilty in New York to ly­ing to Congress about a Moscow real es­tate project that Trump and his com­pany pur­sued at the same time that he was run­ning for pres­i­dent.

Law­mak­ers on Capi­tol Hill had been brac­ing for an­other Trump-Putin sit-down, with some fear­ing a re­peat of last sum­mer’s meet­ing in Helsinki, where Trump was widely crit­i­cized as ap­pear­ing too cozy with Putin.

“My fear is the pres­i­dent will put his arm on his shoul­der and be­lieve ev­ery­thing Vladimir Putin tells him,” Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., said dur­ing a Thurs­day morn­ing ap­pear­ance on MSNBC’s “Morn­ing Joe” be­fore Trump an­nounced the can­cel­la­tion.

Speak­ing ear­lier Thurs­day, Peskov said the agenda for the meet­ing be­tween Putin and Trump in­cluded strate­gic se­cu­rity, bi­lat­eral re­la­tions, dis­ar­ma­ment and re­gional con­flicts.

He said Amer­i­can and Rus­sian del­e­ga­tions would also con­vene for talks that may last an hour. It was not im­me­di­ately clear whether those talks were still on.

The cri­sis be­tween Rus­sia and Ukraine has con­tin­ued to deepen. Kiev is hop­ing Trump will push Putin on the con­fronta­tion, which be­gan Sun­day when Rus­sia fired on Ukrainian ships try­ing to en­ter the Kerch Strait, a cru­cial wa­ter­way sep­a­rat­ing the Black and Azov seas.

But while Rus­sia’s mar­itime ma­neu­vers have been sharply crit­i­cized by se­nior U.S. and West­ern of­fi­cials, Trump ear­lier this week was more ret­i­cent on the is­sue. He stopped short of con­demn­ing Rus­sia, in­stead say­ing, “I don’t like that ag­gres­sion.”

Mar­tial law is in ef­fect for 30 days in Ukraine, and Rus­sia said Wed­nes­day that it was strength­en­ing air de­fense and early warn­ing radar sys­tems on the Crimean Penin­sula, which Moscow an­nexed from Ukraine four years ago.

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