Putin denies election meddling in meeting with Trump

July 7 (UPI) — President Vladimir Putin again denied Russian involvement in U.S. election meddling during his first meeting Friday with President Donald Trump.

The two leaders met for more than 2 hours ahead of the G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany. The get together was initially scheduled to last 30 to 45 minutes. It’s the first time Trump and Putin have met face-to-face since the U.S. presidential election.

Earlier in the day, Putin and Trump shook hands for the first time. A brief video clip released by a German television network showed Trump approaching Putin and initiating the handshake. The two men smiled broadly as they then stood shoulder to shoulder briefly before the video ended.

“We have spoken on the phone with you several times on very important bilateral and international issues. But phone conversation are never enough,” Putin said during the portion of the meeting open to reporters.

“We’re going to have a talk now, and obviously that will continue. But we look forward to a lot of very positive things happening for Russia, for the United States, and for everybody concerned,” Trump added.

They were joined in the meeting by U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Russian foreign minister Sergey V. Lavrov, as well as two interpreters.

Putin and Trump discussed a number of topics, including the fighting in Syria, tensions in Ukraine, as well as the fight against terrorism and cybercrime.

The two leaders were able to agree to a cease-fire to begin Sunday in the southwestern portion of Syria.

Tillerson told reporters Trump pressed Putin on Russia’s alleged interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Putin again denied the accusations.

Tillerson said the denial is a “hindrance in the ability of us to move the U.S.-Russia relationship forward.”

Trump has promised a friendlier diplomatic approach to and greater cooperation with Russia, but both Trump and Putin have been publicly critical of one another in recent days.

On Thursday, Trump called on Russia to halt its support for the Syrian government, propping up a yearslong civil war. He also called on Russia to stop fomenting violence in eastern Ukraine and end its cooperation with Iran.

For his part, Putin was quoted in Russian state media in the run-up to the G20, jabbing at Trump’s economic and trade policies, saying Russia opposes “the growing policy of protectionism.”

During the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump lauded Putin as a “strong leader” and promised to seek more cooperation with the Kremlin, though that has proven elusive since Trump arrived in the White House.

Trump, as recently as April, said, “We’re not getting along with Russia at all.”

The Trump-Putin meeting played out as a special prosecutor in the United States ramps up his investigation into whether Trump or his campaign colluded with Russian efforts to meddle in the 2016 presidential election to Trump’s benefit. U.S. intelligence officials have said it is all-but certain top-level Russian officials, including Putin, signed off on plans to hack Democratic groups and members of Hillary Clinton‘s campaign in a concerted effort to hamper their electoral prospects and put Trump in office.

Trump has denied any collusion with the Russians and said he believes the Russia investigation is a “witch hunt” aimed at undermining his presidency.

Trump continued to face domestic political pressure as part of the fallout from the Russia investigation. In a letter signed by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and four of his colleagues, the lawmakers urged Trump to push back against Russia’s election hacking.

Trump, the letter states, needs to make “absolutely clear Russian interference in our democracy will in no way be tolerated.”


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