By RFE RL
(RFE/RL) — A highly anticipated meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin extended long past its scheduled 35-40 minutes, with the two leaders discussing Syria, Ukraine, and Russia’s alleged meddling in the U.S. presidential election.
U.S. and Russian officials said the July 7 meeting on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit in Hamburg, Germany, lasted 2 hours and 15 minutes and also addressed the crisis over North Korea’s illicit weapons program.
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who attended the July 7 meeting along with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, briefed reporters afterward, saying Trump pressed Putin “on more than one occasion” on Moscow’s involvement in the U.S. election.
Tillerson said the Russian leader denied any interference in the election, adding that it is “something that may be an intractable disagreement at this point.”
In a separate briefing, Lavrov claimed that Trump had “accepted” Putin’s denial of meddling in the election.
“President Trump said he heard clear statements from Putin that [the allegations of meddling] are not true, and that Russian authorities did not intervene, and he accepted these declarations,” Lavrov said.
Tillerson, when asked while he was leaving his news briefing if this was accurate, refused to answer.
Trump did not immediately comment on the meeting, but Russian state-run Interfax news agency quoted Putin as saying he had discussed “many issues,” including “both Ukraine and Syria,” along with terrorism and cybersecurity in their “lengthy conversations.”
In his briefing, Lavrov also confirmed a report by the Associated Press that said the United States and Russia had reached agreement on a cease-fire in southwest Syria, due to go into effect on July 9.
The agreement is separate from the deal on the so-called “deeslcalation zones” being worked out to help separate combatants in Syria’s six-year civil war.
Tillerson said the Trump administration policy sees no long-term role for Syrian President Bashar al- Assad or his family in the future government of Syria.
Video footage from before the meeting showed Putin and Trump briefly shaking hands at the G20 venue earlier in the day, with both men smiling and the U.S. president patting Putin on the back.
Trump has repeatedly called for improving ties with Moscow, though his administration has continued to publicly maintain pressure on Russia — including with sanctions — over its seizure of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula and backing of armed separatists in eastern Ukraine.
Trump’s administration has also been dogged by the assessment of U.S. intelligence officials that the Kremlin ordered a hacking and propaganda campaign aimed at helping Trump win the 2016 U.S. presidential election — an allegation the Kremlin denies.
Both the U.S. Congress and the FBI are investigating the alleged hacking and contacts between associates of the U.S. president and Russian officials.
In a speech in Warsaw on July 6 meeting with Putin, Trump called on Russia to “cease its destabilizing activities in Ukraine and elsewhere” and stressed Washington’s commitment to NATO, which Putin has long accused of stoking tensions in Eastern Europe.
But Trump also downplayed the consensus among U.S. intelligence agencies, and many Republicans and Democrats in Congress, that Moscow actively meddled in the election that he ended up winning.
“Nobody really knows for sure,” Trump told a news conference in Warsaw on July 6 when asked about the allegations of Russian interference.
Sitting next to Trump before the press prior to their July 7 meeting, Putin noted that while the two leaders had previously spoken by telephone, personal meetings were much more effective in dealing with “sensitive” global issues.
Outside the G20 venue, clashes between protesters and police continued on the streets of Hamburg, where police said rioters attacked a police station, torched police cars, and attacked security at a hotel where Putin and other foreign leaders were staying.
The local fire brigade reported at least 11 protesters were seriously injured while attempting to flee police by leaping over a fence.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the violent protests aimed at disrupting the summit were “unacceptable.”
Hamburg police said a demonstrator also fired a fired a flare gun at a police helicopter, narrowly missing the aircraft.
Police spokesman Andy Grote told reporters on July 7 that 45 protesters had been detained and an additional 15 taken into custody. By the earlier afternoon on July 7, Grote said 160 police officers had been injured during several days of protests — mostly with minor injuries.
The street demonstrations and violence left U.S. First Lady Melania Trump stranded at her residence in Hamburg on July 7, preventing her from attending an event on climate change for spouses of political leaders.
“The Hamburg police could not give us clearance to leave [the residence],” Trump’s spokeswoman, Stephanie Grisham, was quoted by AFP as saying.
About 13,000 protesters took to the streets on July 6, including about 1,000 black-clad and masked anarchists. Police expect as many as 100,000 protesters to descend on the port city during the weekend summit. Germany has deployed some 20,000 police to provide security.
Trade And Climate Tensions
Meanwhile, tensions continued to simmer among G20 leaders as the first day of the gathering came to an end.
Merkel said nearly all the leaders agreed the need for free and fair trade, but she added that some differences are making difficult the drafting of the summit’s final communique.
“On the issue of trade, virtually everyone believes we need free but also fair trade,” she said. “However, I can predict that as far as trade is concerned in the communique, the [political aides] have a lot of work ahead of them tonight.”
After a July 6 meeting between Merkel and Trump, German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel said “clear differences” on climate change and trade continued to divide the two allies, though they also found “many commonalities.”
“The question is whether the Americans remain convinced that the only thing that counts on global trade is whether America is the winner or not,” Gabriel told public broadcaster ARD.
“Or can we manage to convince the Americans that if everyone plays by the same rules, then this will be best for everyone,” he said.
The G20 leaders used to routinely issue pledges to fight protectionism, but Trump’s “America First” trade policy has hampered consensus among world leaders on globalization and trade since he took office.
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker told reporters on July 7 that the EU would respond should Washington decide to impose punitive tariffs on steel, although he did not give specifics.
The group appeared unlikely to be able to reach a consensus on climate change as well, as world leaders stepped up pressure on Trump in the wake of his withdrawal from the 2015 Paris climate agreement.
“We are not renegotiating the Paris agreement, that stays. But I want to see the U.S. looking for ways to rejoin it,” British Prime Minister Theresa May told the BBC.
Merkel said that “it will be very interesting to see how we formulate the communique tomorrow and make clear that, of course, there are different opinions in this area because the United States of America regrettably…wants to withdraw from the Paris accord.”
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