By RFE RL
(RFE/RL) — U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin shook hands and exchanged greetings as leaders gathered for a group photo at an Asia-Pacific economic summit in Vietnam.
The brief encounter on November 10 followed days of back-and-forth over whether Trump and Putin would meet on the sidelines of the November 10-11 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Danang.
It also came hours after the White House said that there would be no formal meeting between the two presidents, whose only previous face-to-face meetings since Trump’s January inauguration took place at a G20 summit in July.
“Regarding a Putin meeting, there was never a meeting confirmed, and there will not be one that takes place due to scheduling conflicts on both sides,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters before Air Force One landed in Danang.
Sanders said at the time that they could have a less formal encounter, either in Danang or later in the Philippines when Trump and Putin attend another regional conference.
“Now, they’re going to be in the same place. Are they going to bump into each other and say hello? Certainly possible and likely,” she said. “But in terms of a scheduled, formal meeting, there’s not one on the calendar and we don’t anticipate that there will be one.”
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on November 10 that attempts to arrange a meeting at APEC summit were continuing.
Peskov said later that Russia was receiving “contradictory” statements about a possible meeting and added: “To put it simply, both presidents are in town and will meet one way or another.”
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov lashed out when asked whether there would be a meeting, saying in televised comments: “Ask the Americans, because we are not talking about this issue.”
Lavrov said that Russia had heard comments “from Trump himself” indicating that he wanted to meet with Putin, adding: “What the rest of his little bureaucrats are saying, I don’t know — ask them.”
U.S.-Russian relations are badly strained over issues including Moscow’s aggression in Ukraine and its alleged interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
The only face-to-face meetings between the two presidents since Trump’s inauguration in January took place during a Group of 20 (G20) summit in Germany in July.
At those talks in Hamburg, Trump and Putin discussed accusations of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election but indicated that they agreed to focus on moving forward rather than arguing about past actions.
Relations have been further strained since then, however, amid multiple U.S. investigations into the alleged election meddling and whether associates of Trump colluded with Moscow. Putin denies that Russia interfered, and Trump says there was no collusion.
Under pressure from Congress, Trump signed a bill strengthening sanctions against Russia in early August. Moscow ordered the United States to make major cuts in its embassy and consular staff in Russia, and Washington took retaliatory steps.
Meanwhile, tensions over Russia’s seizure of Crimea and support for separatists fighting Kyiv’s forces in eastern Ukraine — as well as Russia’s role in the devastating war in Syria — persist.
Trump said on November 5 that he expected to meet with Putin during his current Asia trip, and Peskov said on November 8 that there was a “high probability” they would meet.