In a meeting that ran longer than either side had planned, US President Donald Trump and Russia’s Vladimir Putin discussed alleged Russian meddling in the US election on Friday but agreed to focus on better ties rather than litigating the past.
Trump, a Republican who called it an “honour” to meet with the Russian president, drew swift criticism from Democrats at home, who accused him of dismissing US intelligence and giving Putin’s denial, reiterated on Friday, of Russian interference too much weight.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told reporters at a summit of leaders of the Group of 20 major economies in Hamburg that Trump had “positive chemistry” with Putin during the meeting, which lasted some two hours and 15 minutes.
He opened their discussion by pressing Putin about “the concerns of the American people regarding Russian interference in the 2016 election” and had a robust exchange, Tillerson said.
The Russian president has denied any meddling in the US democratic process last year and Moscow has asked for proof that it took place. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Trump accepted Putin’s assertions that the allegations, backed by US intelligence agencies, were false.
Tillerson said they both sought to move on. Tillerson said they agreed to work on commitments of “non-interference in the affairs of the United States and our democratic process as well as those in other countries.”
‘Going very well’
The two leaders spent a lot of time discussing Syria, and after their meeting an agreement between the United States, Russia and Jordan on a ceasefire in southwestern Syria was announced.
The face-to-face encounter was one of the most eagerly anticipated meetings between two leaders in years.
Trump and Putin spoke through translators with their respective foreign ministers present for six minutes before reporters were allowed into the room for their statements. Afterwards the reporters were ushered out and the meeting continued.
“President Putin and I have been discussing various things, and I think it’s going very well,” Trump told reporters, sitting alongside the Russian leader.
“We’ve had some 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. And it’s an honor to be
Putin, through a translator, said: “We spoke over the phone with you several times,” adding: “A phone conversation is never enough.”
The encounter went longer than expected, and first lady Melania Trump came in at one point to urge them to conclude, Tillerson said. The two men later joined other G20 leaders at a concert.
Amid criticism of Russia’s actions in Ukraine and Syria and the investigations into its role in the US campaign, Trump has come under growing pressure to take a hard line against the Kremlin.