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Trump and Putin have ‘robust’ talk about election interference

Secretary of State Tillerson says Putin again denied that Russia meddled in last year’s election.

Updated

President Donald Trump Russian President Vladimir Putin had a “robust” conversation about allegations that the Kremlin tried to interfere in last year’s presidential election, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told reporters on Friday, after the two world leaders met at the G-20 meeting in Germany.

Putin denied that Russia had engaged in any such effort to interfere in the 2016 campaign, Tillerson said, adding that the Russians had asked for proof that they were to blame for the campaign of cyberattacks. Trump “pressed” Putin on the issue, the secretary of state added, and the two presidents “had a very robust and lengthy exchange on the subject.”

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Discussion on the issue, Tillerson said, was focused on “how to we move forward from here, because it’s not clear to me that we will ever come to some agreed-upon resolution… it’s too important not to find a way forward.” After the meeting, the Associated Press reported that Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Trump had accepted Putin’s assurances that the Kremlin had not sought to interfere in the 2016 election.

There were widespread questions about whether Trump would broach the subject, given that the president has been less than full-throated in accepting the U.S. intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia meddled in the election.

While speaking in Poland earlier this week, Trump said he thinks it was Russia that hacked U.S. election targets, but went on to say it was “probably other people, and/or countries, and I see nothing wrong with that statement. … Nobody really knows for sure.”

Trump began his Friday meeting with Putin by telling him that “it’s an honor to be with you” as the two leaders kicked off their much-anticipated bilateral meeting, one that was scheduled for just 30 minutes but wound up lasting nearly two-and-a-half hours. One reason the meeting lasted so long, Tillerson said, was that Trump and Putin quickly developed such a rapport that “there was so much to talk about” and “just about everything got touched on.”

At one point, Tillerson said, First Lady Melania Trump entered the room in a fruitless effort to break up the already over-time meeting, which continued for another hour after she left.

Neither Trump nor Putin, who were accompanied by Tillerson and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, respectively, had offered specifics of what they would discuss once reporters left the room. Russian government-controlled Sputnik News reported Friday afternoon that Putin, at the start of a later meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, said he and Trump had discussed “a lot of issues such as Ukraine, Syria, other problems, some bilateral issues,” as well as combating terrorism and cybersecurity.

As Trump and Putin met, the Associated Press reported that their two nations had negotiated a ceasefire in Southwest Syria, where Russia has backed dictator Bashar al-Assad and the U.S. has supported rebel groups fighting to oust him. After Friday’s meeting, Tillerson said “we have a very clear picture of who will provide the security forces” but added that “we have a few more details to work out…I expect that will be completed in less than a week.” The secretary of state called it “our first indication of the U.S. and Russia being able to work together in Syria.”

Beyond the region where the ceasefire is scheduled to take effect this weekend, Tillerson said Trump and Putin held a “lengthy discussion” on other portions of Syria to “deescalate the violence once we defeat ISIS and to work towards a political process that will secure the future of the Syrian people.”

“By and large our objectives are exactly the same,” Tillerson said. “How we get there, there’s a different view.”

“President Putin and I have been discussing various things, and I think it’s going very well. We’ve had some very, very good talks. We are going to have a talk now and obviously that will continue,” Trump said as photographers snapped photos of the two presidents, whose meeting took place at the G-20 summit in Hamburg, Germany. “But we look forward to a lot of very positive things happening for Russia, for the United States and for everybody concerned, and It’s an honor to be with you.”

Putin, through a translator, echoed his U.S. counterpart’s friendly welcome and said he and Trump “will really need personal meetings” in order to resolve certain policy issues.

“We have spoken on the phone with you several times before on very important bilateral and international issues. But phone conversation is never enough,” Putin said. “I’m delighted to be able to meet you personally, Mr. President. And I hope, as you have said, our meeting will yield positive result.”

Before the scheduled bilateral meeting Friday, Trump and Putin had already spoken briefly on the sidelines of the G-20 summit, The Associated Press reported. A video of a brief encounter between the two leaders shows them shaking hands and Trump patting Putin on the forearm and on the back.

Friday marked the first meeting between the two men since Trump’s election, with the backdrop of a campaign and presidency that have been fraught with reports that the Russian government sought to interfere in the presidential race to aid Trump’s candidacy as well as allegations that individuals close to Trump may have aided the Kremlin in its efforts.

Russia has denied those allegations and Trump has suggested only that Russia may have been to blame, stopping short of the certainty with which the intelligence community has leveled the charge. Trump is also facing an FBI investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller into the alleged meddling and into whether Trump tried to obstruct justice as the probe advanced.

Hours before his meeting with Putin, Trump wrote online that “I look forward to all meetings today with world leaders, including my meeting with Vladimir Putin. Much to discuss.” Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Putin, too, was looking forward to the meeting.

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Source: POLITICO – TOP Stories

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