President Donald Trump repeatedly pressed Russian President Vladimir Putin on the issue of Russian meddling in the 2016 election in their face-to-face meeting in Hamburg, Germany, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told reporters on Friday.
The meeting went for two hours and 16 minutes, well beyond an expected 30 minutes of talks. It was their first face-to-face meeting at the G20 summit.
They will hold a longer meeting later, and say they want to repair ties damaged by a crises including Russia’s alleged meddling in the US election. Climate change and trade are set to dominate as the two-day summit opens, with mass protests in the streets.
“Our relationship with Russia is not different from any other country in terms of us communicating with them, really, what our concerns are, where we see problems in the relationship but also opportunities,” said Trump’s national security advisor, H.R. McMaster.
Face to face
- When President Trump came face to face with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin for the first time today, they addressed a touchy subject: the 2016 election.
- Their first public meeting was polite and cordial, with a handshake and compliments between the two world leaders. Putin said he was “delighted” to meet Trump in person, while the US president said he hoped for positive developments out of the meeting. [Washington Post / Abby Phillip and David Filipov]
- But behind the scenes, things were much more complicated.
- Trump started the two-hour meeting by asking Putin if his government had meddled in the 2016 election; Putin reportedly denied any such involvement. [NYT]
- They pretty much left things there, agreeing that rehashing the election would hinder a working relationship going forward. [NPR / Miles Parks]
- The two leaders also struck a ceasefire in southwestern Syria. The Russians back Syrian dictator Bashar-Al Assad, while the US supports some rebel groups that oppose him. [Associated Press / Vivian Salama, Josh Lederman, and Ken Thomas]
- Putin went into the talks with a clear set of goals, chief among them easing back sanctions over Russia’s actions in Crimea, and trying to ensure that the US won’t punish the Kremlin for meddling in the 2016 election (Congress is pushing hard for tougher sanctions for that very issue). [Vox / Yochi Dreazen]
- Trump’s demands were not as clear. Embroiled in the Russian investigation that just won’t quit, Trump needed to strike a careful balance so as not to look too cozy with Putin, and prove that he could stand up to a country US intelligence agencies say meddled in the election with the goal of electing Trump. [Slate / Fred Kaplan]
- Ahead of their meeting, Trump was still hesitant to put the 2016 election meddling squarely on Russia. At a news conference in Poland, he appeared to be at odds with his own intelligence agencies by insisting that other countries could have been involved in the interference and that “nobody really knows for sure” if it was Russia. [ABC News / Jordyn Phelps]
- Trump then delivered a speech criticizing Russia for attempting to destabilize elections in the West. [Reuters / Roberta Rampton and Pawel Sobczak]
- The meeting between the two men comes as US intelligence officials say Russia is stepping up its spying efforts, with approximately 150 spies currently in the United States. The latest effort is apparently retaliation for the Obama administration kicking out 35 Russian diplomats suspected of espionage in December. [CNN / Pamela Brown, Shimon Prokupecz, and Evan Perez]