President Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin kicked off their much-anticipated bilateral meeting at the G-20 summit in Hamburg, Germany, on Friday with Trump fawning over Putin and saying, “It’s an honor to be with you!”
Politico reported that neither Trump nor Putin—who were accompanied only by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, respectively—offered specifics of what they would discuss once reporters left the room. When a reported asked if he would discuss Russia’s interference in last year’s presidential campaign, Trump didn’t reply.
As the photo op cameras clicked away, Trump spoke in the vaguest of generalities:
President Putin and I have been discussing various things, and I think it’s going very well. We’ve had some very, very good talks. We are 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, and it’s an honor to be with you.
Putin, through a translator, said he and Trump “will really need personal meetings” in order to resolve certain policy issues:
We have spoken on the phone with you several times before on very important bilateral and international issues. But phone conversation is never enough. I’m delighted to be able to meet you personally, Mr. President. And I hope, as you have said, our meeting will yield positive results.
When Trump said, “It’s an honor to meet you,” he was implying they hadn’t met before, but that was deceptive: before this meeting, Trump and Putin had already spoken, albeit briefly, on the sidelines. A video of a brief encounter between the two leaders shows them shaking hands and Trump patting Putin on the forearm and on the back:
Russia has denied the findings of virtually the entire US intelligence community that the Kremlin’s interference in the 2016 election helped Trump win; Trump has suggested only that Russia may have been to blame, stopping well short of the certainty with which the intelligence community has leveled the charge. Trump is also facing an FBI investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller into the alleged meddling, and into whether Trump tried to obstruct justice as the probe advanced.