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G20 summit: Trump, Putin discuss election hacking, terrorism and cybersecurity

The US President raised concerns about Moscow’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election, US secretary of state Rex Tillerson said. He said Putin denied being involved.

world Updated: Jul 08, 2017 00:01 IST
US President Donald Trump and Russia's President Vladimir Putin shake hands during a meeting on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Hamburg, Germany.
US President Donald Trump and Russia's President Vladimir Putin shake hands during a meeting on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Hamburg, Germany.(AFP Photo)

US President Donald Trump voiced optimism that there are “very positive things” in store for the United States and Russia as he sat down with President Vladimir Putin on Friday for an historic first meeting.

Seated next to Putin in Germany, Trump said it was “an honour” to be with Putin. As journalists were briefly allowed in to witness part of the meeting, Trump said that he and Putin had already held “very, very good talks.”

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

Putin said he had a long conversation with Trump, and that “many issues have piled up, including Ukraine, Syria, some bilateral and other issues.” He said he and Trump also spoke about “fighting terrorism and cybersecurity” during their two-plus-hour meeting.

With secretary of state Rex Tillerson at his side, Trump sat in front of an American flag with his hands clasped together in triangle formation. Putin, slightly hunched in his chair, rubbed his fingers together as he listened to Trump address reporters. His foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, sat nearby.

Trump raised US concerns about Moscow’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election, US secretary of state Rex Tillerson said. He said Putin denied being involved.

Trump’s decision to confront Putin directly over election interference fulfilled ardent demands by US lawmakers of both parties that the president not shy away from the issue in his highly anticipated meeting with Putin.

Trump has avoided stating unequivocally in the past that Russia interfered, even as investigations proceed into whether Trump’s campaign colluded with Russians who sought to help him win.

Putin’s denial of culpability notwithstanding, he and Trump agreed that the issue has become a hindrance to better relations between the two powers, said Tillerson.

Tillerson said the two leaders had agreed to continue the discussion, with an eye toward securing a commitment that Russia won’t interfere in U.S. affairs in the future.

“I think the president is rightly focused on how do we move forward from something that may be an intractable disagreement at this point,” Tillerson said.

In their meeting, the two also discussed a ceasefire deal for southwestern Syria that was reached by Russia and the United States and first reported Friday by The Associated Press.

“Phone conversations are never enough definitely,” Putin had said earlier. “If you want to have a positive outcome in bilaterals and be able to resolve most international policy issues, that will really need personal meetings.”

Then the leaders shook hands firmly but briefly before reporters were escorted out of the room.

US President Donald Trump meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin during their bilateral meeting at the G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany. (Reuters Photo)

Both kept their composure amid the commotion of cameras clicking and journalists lobbying questions as anxious aides moved about nearby. The US leader’s son, Donald Trump Jr, took to Twitter to say the noise from the cameras made it difficult to even hear the two leaders’ words.

“How many pictures do you need of the same scene?” he said.

The heavily anticipated meeting was closely scrutinized for signs of how friendly a rapport Trump and Putin will have. Trump’s predecessor, President Barack Obama, had notoriously strained ties to Putin, and Trump has expressed an interest in a better US-Russia relationship. But deep skepticism about Russia in the US and ongoing investigations into whether Trump’s campaign coordinated with Moscow during last year’s election have made a US-Russia detente politically risky for Trump.

In a prelude to their formal sit-down, Trump and Putin shook hands and exchanged broad grins earlier Friday in a brief exchange caught on video as a leaders’ retreat got under way in Hamburg. A brief video clip showed Trump outstretching his hand to Putin as officials gathered around a table, then patting Putin’s elbow as both men smiled. In another clip, Trump casually patted Putin on the back as they stood side by side.

Video of the brief exchange was posted to Facebook by the German Cabinet. It was the first known in-person interaction between the two men.

Trump alluded to the campaign controversy as he started the day with a jab at his vanquished Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton. He wrote on Twitter that “everyone here is talking” about her campaign chairman’s “disgraceful” response after the FBI discovered Democratic Party computers were hacked — a breach later blamed on Russia.

Outside the summit site, anti-globalization protesters were causing problems for first lady Melania Trump, who was kept from joining other leaders’ spouses for their own program of events. Mrs. Trump’s office said local police hadn’t cleared her to leave the government guest house where she and Trump were staying because of the protests, in which demonstrators set dozens of cars ablaze.

In the lead-up to the meeting, Trump used a speech in Warsaw on Thursday to voice a list of grievances about Russia. He urged Putin’s government to “cease its destabilising activities in Ukraine and elsewhere and its support for hostile regimes — including Syria and Iran — and to instead join the community of responsible nations in our fight against common enemies and in defense of civilization itself.”