Russian Rapprochement: Trump, Putin Engage for Hours on Wide Array of Issues

Tillerson points to 'clear, positive chemistry between' U.S. president and counterpart from Moscow

by Jim Stinson | Updated 23 Aug 2017 at 2:52 PM

President Donald Trump met with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday in a high-stakes meeting during the G-20 event in Hamburg, Germany.

The two world leaders talked cybersecurity issues and terrorism, according to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who spoke to reporters off camera after the meeting.

Syria appeared to have been the topic that took up the most time, based on Tillerson’s remarks. The United States is fighting ISIS in that Middle Eastern country, but Russia supports Syria’s regime and has military bases there.

The two leaders also discussed the current state of the U.S.-Russia relationship, as well as the future of bilateral affairs, said Tillerson. The two men avoided griping about past transgressions, while admitting they need some closure on certain issues, said Tillerson.

"The two leaders agreed this is of substantial hindrance," said Tillerson. "They agreed to exchange further work regarding commitments of noninterference in the affairs of the U.S. and our democratic process as well as other countries."

The talks kept going because of the budding relationship between the two leaders.

"There was a clear positive chemistry between the two," said Tillerson. "There was not a lot of re-litigating of the past ... There was such a level of exchange, they did not want to stop."

"It's too important not to find a way to move forward."

Tillerson said First Lady Melania Trump went in after the first hour to get Trump to wrap up. The meeting was supposed to go up to 45 minutes. It went 2 hours and 15 minutes at the Hamburg location.

"Clearly, she failed," Tillerson said to chuckles.

The leaders talked de-escalation in U.S.-Russia tensions in Syria. Tillerson confirmed reports that Russia, Jordan, and the United States would begin a ceasefire in southwest Syria, near where Jordan and the United States are fighting ISIS.

Russia has bases in Syria, including a large naval base in Tartus, and desired certain areas to be declared off-limits.

But Tillerson said Trump sees no long-term future for the regime of Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian dictator and Russian ally.

The leaders discussed alleged Russian interference in the 2016 presidential elections, perhaps the biggest complaint about Russian conduct as it affects the United States. Putin denied Russia engaged in hacking of Democratic computers during the election, according to Tillerson, and has asked for proof. Tillerson said he would defer to U.S. intelligence communities to provide proof.

Tillerson said Trump has taken note of possible sanctions against Russia that Congress has raised to punish Russia for alleged computer hacking. Tillerson said the focus, however, has been improvement of relations.

"It's too important not to find a way to move forward," said Tillerson.

Perhaps the most pressing issue discussed was North Korea.

Tillerson said Trump communicated the urgency of the situation in North Korea, where the dictator Kim Jong-Un has tested nuclear bombs and intercontinental ballistic missiles. Tillerson noted Russia's stance is the same as the U.S. position: a denuclearized Korean peninsula.

Tillerson also addressed the disappointing role China has played. Initially, Trump had hoped China would step up and force North Korea to the table. China has not done that.

"We have not given hope," Tillerson said of persuading China to step up pressure. "This is a campaign to give ... a peaceful resolution."

In the meeting were Trump, Putin, Tillerson, the Russian foreign minister, and two translators.

The media breathlessly awaited word from Tillerson, who briefed the press about the meeting. The closed meeting was covered live — as best as it could be. Reporters and TV commentators awaited word from Tillerson, who would debrief the world on the meeting's outcome.

The first meeting between the two world leaders actually happened earlier, at the G-20 meeting, when the two leaders shook hands.

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