All eyes were on Trump and Putin again as the two leaders bumped into each other at the APEC meeting on Saturday. They patted each other on the back several times, and Putin whispered something in Trump’s ear. The US leader listened attentively leaving reporters to guess what the two discussed.
Shortly after, President Trump again dismissed allegations of Russian meddling in last year’s U.S. election, following his first brief meeting with Russian president Vladimir Putin at the APEC conference after their first encounter in July. Speaking to reporters on Air Force One, Trump said that he believes Vladimir Putin’s denials about election meddling – over allegations raised by US intel agencies including the CIA, NSA, and FBI which claim that Russia actively worked to meddle in the election – which are an “artificial Democratic hit job” and did not want to press further because he thinks the U.S. and Russia can work together on issues that include North Korea, Syria and Ukraine. He also said that interference talk “gets in the way and that’s a shame,” because people will die because of it.
Trump said Putin had told him again that he hadn’t meddled in the election: “I really believe that when he tells me that, he means it,” Trump said of the accusations.
“I think he’s very insulted by it, which is not a good thing for our country.” Trump repeated that “there was no collusion, everybody knows there was no collusion” and called it a “pure hit job” and said that “rhis is really an artificial barrier that’s put in front of us for solving problems with Russia. I think it’s a shame that something like can destroy a very important potential relationship between two countries that are very important countries. Russia could really help us.”
Putin likewise dismissed suggestions Russia influenced the elections through political advertising. Tech companies, including Facebook, have said some Russian-bought political content spread on their platforms around the time of the election. “There is no confirmation of our mass media meddling in election campaigns – and there can’t be any,” Putin said.
Trump also said he didn’t speak to Putin about North Korea during APEC summit, and was focused on Syria and Ukraine.
While there was no official meeting between the two presidents scheduled, Trump said he and Putin spoke at picture- taking last night and at a roundtable today. “We spoke intermittently.” Scheduling and unspecified protocol issues were to blame for the fact that a mooted sit-down meeting with Trump did not happen in Danang, Putin said.
They were also seen chatting amicably as they walked to the position where the traditional APEC summit photo was being taken at a viewpoint looking over the South China Sea.
Pictures from the APEC meeting also showed Trump walking up to Putin at the summit table and patting him on the back. They also shook hands at the summit dinner on Friday evening. “We’ll have a meeting” in the future Trump said, while adding cryptically that a deal to support a political solution to Syria’s conflict would save “tremendous numbers of lives”.
“We did it very quickly,” Trump told reporters aboard Air Force One after leaving the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in the resort of Danang for Hanoi, Vietnam’s capital. “We seem to have a very good feeling for each other, a good relationship considering we don’t know each other well.”
Talking to journalists on Saturday after the meeting, Putin said that the absence of a separate, official meeting with the US president at the summit further proves that there is an ongoing crisis in relations between the two nations. “It means that US-Russia relations are still in a state of crisis.” Moscow is, however, ready “to turn the page and move on, look into the future and solve problems important both to the people of the US and Russia,” including issues within the “sphere of security, and of economic interaction, which has dropped to virtually zero.”
Asked whether he experienced Trump’s trademark “intense handshake” habit, the Russian leader replied: “I know nothing about his habits, we are not so well acquainted, but the US president conducts himself in the best possible way, is a well-mannered person and comfortable to deal with.”
Ahead of APEC, the Kremlin and the White House gave conflicting reports on the possibility of a meeting between the two leaders, before eventually stating that there will not be an official meeting this time around. Nonetheless, Putin and Trump met and shook hands at a dinner on Friday night, and again at the start of the main meeting of Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders on Saturday.
Eyebrows were raised when Secretary of State Rex Tillerson questioned the necessity of the Russian and US presidents sitting down for a meeting. “The view has been if the two leaders are going to meet, is there something sufficiently substantive to talk about that would warrant a formal meeting?” he told a press briefing in Beijing on Thursday. Tillerson’s statement comes at a time when US-Russian relations have reached one of the lowest points in decades.
On Saturday, the two leaders agreed on a joint statement confirming their commitment to Syria’s sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity. “Moscow and Washington agree there is no military solution to the conflict,” the text of the joint statement, published on the Kremlin’s website, said. Putin and Trump have called on all parties to the Syrian conflict to “take an active part in the Geneva political process and support efforts aimed at ensuring its success.”
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Courtesy of Axios, here is the exchange between Trump and reporters on Air Force One
Reporter: Did Russia’s attempts to meddle in US elections come up in the conversations?
Trump: “He said he didn’t meddle, he said he didn’t meddle. I asked him again. You can only ask so many times.”
Trump: “I just asked him again. He said he absolutely did not meddle in our election, he did not do what they are saying he did.”
Reporter: Do you believe him?
Trump: “Well, look, I can’t stand there and argue with him, I would rather have him get out of Syria, I would rather get to work with him on the Ukraine rather than arguing about whether or not… that whole thing was set up by the Democrats. Look at Podesta, look at all the things that they have done with the phony dossier. Those are the big events. But Putin said he did not do what they said he did. But we have a good feeling toward getting things done. If we had a relationship with Russia, that would be a good thing. In fact it would be a great thing, not a bad thing, because he could really help us on North Korea. We have a big problem with North Korea and China is helping us. And because of the lack of the relationship that we have with Russia, because of this artificial thing that’s happening with this Democratic-inspired thing. We could really be helped a lot with Russia having to do with North Korea. You know you are talking about millions and millions of lives. This isn’t baby stuff, this is the real deal. And if Russia helped us in addition to China, that problem would go away a lot faster.”
Reporter: On election meddling, did you ask him the question?
Trump: “Every time he sees me he says I didn’t do that and I really believe that when he tells me that, he means it. But he says I didn’t do that. I think he is very insulted by it, which is not a good thing for our country. Because again, if we had a relationship with Russia, North Korea which is our single biggest problem right now, it would help a lot. I think they are doing very well with respect to China, they have cut off financing, they have cut off lots of oil and lots of other things, lots of trade and it’s having a big impact. But Russia on the other hand may be making up the difference. And if they are, that’s not a good thing. So having a relationship with Russia would be a great thing especially as it relates to North Korea.”
“Hillary had her stupid reset button that she spelled the word wrong, but she does not have what it takes to have that kind of relationship where you could call or you could do something. But this is really an artificial barrier that’s put in front of us for solving problems with Russia. He says that very strongly, he really seems to be insulted by it and he says he didn’t do it. He is very, very strong in the fact that he didn’t do it. You have President Putin very strongly, vehemently says he has nothing to do with that. Now, you are not going to get into an argument, you are going to start talking about Syria and the Ukraine.”