Trump meets Putin for first time, calls it 'an honour'

US President Donald Trump meeting Russian President Vladimir Putin during the G-20 summit in Hamburg, Germany, yesterday. Mr Trump said as the meeting began that the two leaders "look forward to a lot of positive things happening, for Russia, for the
US President Donald Trump meeting Russian President Vladimir Putin during the G-20 summit in Hamburg, Germany, yesterday. Mr Trump said as the meeting began that the two leaders "look forward to a lot of positive things happening, for Russia, for the United States".PHOTO: REUTERS

HAMBURG • US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin met yesterday for the first time, the most highly anticipated sit-down at the Group of 20 (G-20) summit, with repercussions for Mr Trump's political standing at home and security around the world in hot spots from Syria to Ukraine.

"President Putin and I have been discussing various things," Mr Trump said as the meeting began. "We look forward to a lot of positive things happening, for Russia, for the United States."

He said it was "an honour" to meet the Russian President.

Mr Putin noted that the two men have spoken by phone several times, "but phone conversation is never enough". He added: "I hope as you have said, our meeting will yield positive results."

It was their first meeting since Mr Trump took office in January, with the backdrop of US intelligence agencies finding that Russia had meddled in the US election in an attempt to help Mr Trump.

Apart from the two presidents, only US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and two translators were at the meeting.

The two leaders had shaken hands hours earlier at the start of the summit in Hamburg and Mr Trump said in a tweet: "I look forward to all meetings today with world leaders, including my meeting with Vladimir Putin. Much to discuss."

The agenda is expected to include sanctions against Russia for its treatment of Ukraine, and approaches to Syria, Iran and North Korea.

The meeting comes at a low point in recent US-Russia ties, amid federal and congressional probes into Russian interference in last year's US presidential election. Moscow denies interfering.

Mr Trump came to office hoping to forge closer ties with Russia as a way to gain Mr Putin's help in stopping the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria terrorist group, and in standing up to Iran. The investigations have largely sidelined those plans.

In fact, heading into the meeting with Mr Putin, the US leader used a speech in Warsaw to take Russia to task for "destabilising behaviour" in Ukraine and urged Mr Putin's regime to stop supporting "hostile regimes" in Iran and Syria. Mr Trump said in a news conference in Warsaw that it "could be Russia" that had meddled in the election, but "nobody really knows for sure".

Another issue casting a dark shadow over Mr Trump's first G-20 summit is North Korea's successful test of an intercontinental ballistic missile this week. He had warned Pyongyang on Thursday that he was considering a "severe" response to its "very, very bad behaviour".

Yesterday, the US, Japan and South Korea agreed to push for a quick United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolution to apply new sanctions on North Korea.

Their leaders, who met on the sidelines of the summit, promised to apply "maximum pressure" to counter the North's nuclear threat.

The leaders "decided to press for the early adoption of a new UNSC resolution with additional sanctions to demonstrate to (North Korea) that there are serious consequences for its destabilising, provocative and escalatory actions", the three countries said in a joint statement.

Another closely watched bilateral meeting is the one between Mr Trump and Mr Xi today. After urging China repeatedly to ratchet up the economic pressure on North Korea, Mr Trump has shown signs of losing patience. "So much for China working with us - but we had to give it a try!" he said in a tweet on Wednesday.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 08, 2017, with the headline 'Trump meets Putin for first time, calls it 'an honour''. Print Edition | Subscribe