US President Donald Trump and Russian leader Vladimir Putin held their first face-to-face meeting Friday at the G20 summit in Hamburg, with a possibly overawed Trump declaring: “it’s an honour to be with you”.
“We look forward to a lot of very positive things happening for Russia, for the United States and for everyone concerned,” Trump said.
Putin told the US leader: “I’m delighted to be able to meet you personally Mr President. And I hope as you have said, our meeting will yield concrete results.”
Trump was joined at the Putin meeting only by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and a translator, an extraordinarily small cast list that raised concerns among experts.
“Neither Tillerson or Trump have any experience of foreign policy. That is one reason why they need pros in the room when meeting Putin,” said Thomas Wright of the Brookings Institution.
The blockbuster encounter could sway issues ranging from the North Korean crisis and conflicts in Syria and Ukraine to US-Russian disarmament treaties, world trade and global warming, analysts say.
Public images of the interaction between the brash property tycoon and ice-cool ex-KGB agent are likely to be dissected frame by frame for any sign of rapprochement or estrangement.
Trump promised a rapprochement with Moscow during his campaign for the presidency last year. But he has been unable to deliver on that pledge because his administration has been dogged by investigations into allegations of Russian meddling in the U.S. election and ties between his campaign team and Moscow.
Moscow has denied any interference and Trump says his campaign did not collude with Russia.
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’re going to have a talk now and obviously that will continue. 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, said: “We spoke over the phone with you several times,” adding: “A phone conversation is never enough.”
“I am delighted to be able to meet you personally, Mr. President,” he said, noting that he hoped the meeting would yield results.
Both men sat with legs splayed. Trump listened intently as Putin spoke.
Before the meeting, some feared the Republican president, a political novice whose team is still developing its Russia policy, would be less prepared for the talks than Putin, a former KGB agent who has dealt with the last two U.S. presidents and scores of other world leaders.
Amid criticism of Russia’s actions in Ukraine and Syria and the investigations into its role in the U.S. campaign, Trump has come under growing pressure to take a hard line against the Kremlin.
On Thursday, Trump delivered some of his sharpest remarks about Moscow since becoming president, urging Russia to stop its “destabilizing activities” and end its support for Syria and Iran.