The two leaders had a brief encounter upon arrival at the G-20 summit of industrialised and developing nations, shaking hands and exchanging a few words. Their sit-down meeting, which may tackle a number of vexing foreign policy issues from the conflict in Syria to Russia’s provocations in Ukraine, will be overshadowed by the investigations into whether Trump’s campaign coordinated with Moscow during last year’s presidential election.
In the lead-up to the meeting, Trump, during a speech in Warsaw on Thursday urged Russia 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.”
But much of the focus, both in Washington and Moscow, will be on whether Trump broaches the issue of Russia’s meddling in the election.
Before the meeting today, Trump tweeted that he was looking forward to the visit, saying there was “much to discuss.”
During a news conference in Poland on Thursday, he again refused to accept the conclusion by multiple US intelligence agencies that Russia interfered to try to help Trump win last November.
Trump said it could have been Russia, but that other country could have meddled, too.“Nobody really knows for sure,” Trump said.
US lawmakers and federal investigators continue to look into Russia’s election interference, along with possible collusion between Trump campaign associates and Russian government officials.
That puts Trump under intense scrutiny over how he handles the sit-down with Putin, a former Russian intelligence agent known to come to meetings like this well-prepared.The White House has scheduled 35 minutes for the meeting, raising questions about how much ground the leaders can be expected to cover.
Trump, who likes to have neatly packaged achievements to pair with high-profile meetings, may seek some concessions from Russia to show he’s delivering progress and helping restore a once-productive relationship that he recently described as being at an “all-time low.” Putin would almost certainly want something in return.
The list of issues ranges from Syria to Iran to Ukraine, and now North Korea, following Pyongyang’s test this week of a missile capable of striking the US.
Russia wants the US to return the two compounds in New York and Maryland that were seised by the Obama administration as punishment for election meddling.
It also wants the US to ease sanctions it imposed on Russia after Putin annexed the Crimean Peninsula, and over Russia’s support of separatist elements in Ukraine.
The US wants a resumption of adoptions of Russian children by American parents, which Russia banned in 2012, along with an end to what it claims is intensifying harassment of US diplomats and other officials stationed in Russia.
Lawmakers in both political parties say Trump must confront Putin over the election.
Several senior Democratic US Senators served notice on Thursday that Trump would be in “severe dereliction” of his presidential duty if he fails to confront Putin over the issue, telling Trump in a letter that he must make clear that Russia’s interference in US democracy will not be tolerated.