Russian foreign minister has claimed Donald Trump accepted Vladimir Putin’s assurances that Russia did not meddle in the US presidential election.
After the two leaders emerged from a meeting that lasted two hours and sixteen minutes – at one point, First Lady Melania Trump entered the room to hurry them along – US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Mr Trump had raised the issue of Moscow’s alleged cyber-meddling in the election at the start of their conversation.
He said the US had talked about such attacks represented a “threat to the democratic process”. An official from the White House later indicated that the President had not in fact accepted assurances from Mr Putin that Russia did not meddle in the 2016 election.
“The president opened the meeting raising the concerns of the American people about Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election,” said Mr Tillerson. “They had a very lengthy and robust conversation on this”
He said Mr Trump pushed him on the issue and that Mr Putin stood firm in his denial.
“I think the president is rightly focused on how do we move forward from something that may be an intractable disagreement at this point,” Mr Tillerson said.
In his own briefing to reporters, Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov said Mr Trump accepted Putin’s assurances that Russia did not meddle in the election.
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“The [issue of cybersecurity] got a lot of attention, which is understandable,” Mr Lavrov said. “President Trump mentioned that in the US, some circles are fuelling – even though they cannot prove [anything – the allegations of Russian meddling in the US elections.”
When pressed, Mr Lavrov said that Mr Trump or Mr Tillerson would likely provide further information to the press.
“In the course of the months that these allegations have been around, not a single fact has been presented, which is admitted by those in the [US] Congress who have led this movement at some point,” Mr Lavrov said. “And President Trump said that he heard President Putin stating clearly that it is not true, that the Russian government did not meddle” in the elections.”
Mr Trump left the scene of his conversation with Mr Putin, to head to Hamburg’s Elbphilharmonie, a concert that is the venue for a formal G20 dinner. He was accompanied by the First Lady Melania Trump.
Earlier, the US President had spoken to reporters as he and Mr Putin posed for photographs before their discussions, accompanied only by their translators, Mr Tillerson and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
“President Putin and I have been discussing various things, and I think it’s going very well,” said Mr Trump. “We look forward to a lot of very positive happenings for Russia and for the United States, and for everyone concerned.”
For his part, Mr Putin said he was happy to be able to meet Mr Trump in person.
“We spoke over the phone but phone conversations are never enough, definitely,” he said. “I hope that, as you have said, our meetings will yield positive results.”
During the over two hours that the two presidents were in the meeting, the world leaders discussed a range of issues, including Russia’s annexation of Crimea, a reported agreement for a cease fire in Syria, and ways to cooperate in the fight against terrorism in the world
“This is our first indication of the US and Russia being able to work together in Syria,” Mr Tillerson said of the cease fire in Syria, which was described as a potential building block to further cooperation in the war-torn country. Mr Trump and Mr Putin had a “lengthy discussion of other areas in Syria where we can work together.”
Before the meeting between the two presidents, observers were keen to see how they would interract in person. The two countries haven’t had the greatest relationship so far in Mr Trump’s nascent presidency, and the White House has at times described the relationship with the Kremlin as at all-time lows. The relationship became exacerbated in April when Mr Trump ordered a missile strike on a Syrian government airbase in April to the chagrin of the Russian military.
The Russian government officially supports the embattled Syrian regime headed by Bashar al-Assad, while the US government has called for that president’s ouster.
The 2017 G20 summit is the twelfth meeting of the Group of Twenty, which is an assembly of some of the most powerful countries on the planet, as well as the European Union.