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Trump 'raised concerns of American people' with Putin at start of G20 talks today

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that neither of the pair wanted to stop talking once they’d started.

putin2 Putin and Trump shaking hands today Source: Evan Vucci/AP/Press Association Images

Updated 8.01pm 

DONALD TRUMP PRESSED Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on allegations of Russian meddling in the 2016 US election today in their eagerly-awaited first face-to-face talks, according to US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

“The president opened the meeting with President Putin by raising the concerns of the American people regarding Russian interference in the 2016 election,” Tillerson told reporters after the meeting on the sidelines of the G20 in Germany.

“They had a very robust and lengthy exchange on the subject. The president pressed President Putin on more than one occasion regarding Russian involvement. President Putin denied such involvement, as I think he has done in the past,” Tillerson told reporters.

Tillerson, who was present at the marathon two-and-a-quarter-hour meeting in Hamburg, said also that the two leaders “connected very quickly” at their talks on the sidelines of the G20 summit.

“There was a very clear positive chemistry between the two,” Tillerson told reporters.

“There are so many issues on the table… Just about everything got touched upon… Neither one of them wanted to stop,” he said.

I believe they even sent in the (US) First Lady at one point to see if she could get us out of there, but that didn’t work either… We did another hour. Clearly she failed.

Tete-a-tete

Earlier, Trump and Russian leader Vladimir Putin began their first formal face-to-face talks today on the sidelines of the G20 summit.

“It’s an honour to be with you,” Trump said, while Putin told the US leader: “I’m delighted to meet you.”

Their handshake in Hamburg came hours before the brash property tycoon and the ice-cool ex-KGB agent were due to hold a blockbuster bilateral that promises to be dissected frame by frame for any sign of rapprochement or estrangement.

Trump had tweeted that he was looking forward to the meeting. Asked if Putin felt the same about the talks, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said: “Affirmative.”

Footage from the summit captured what looked like a friendly handshake between the two men.

Posted by on Thursday, 22 August 2019

Their meeting, say analysts, is of vital importance for issues ranging from the North Korean crisis and conflicts in Syria and Ukraine to US-Russian disarmament treaties, world trade and global warming.

“While Trump’s pro-wrestling approach is showy, bombastic and impulsive, Putin thrives on judo’s discipline and mental toughness, where a core technique is to keep an opponent off-balance and exploit his weakness,” noted Derek Chollet from think-tank German Marshall Fund.

“How these contrasting styles of machismo interact … will likely be the defining feature of their relationship.”

On the presidential election campaign trail last year, Trump said he hoped relations with Putin could be rebuilt after Russia’s acrimonious ties with his predecessor Barack Obama.

‘Destabilising activities’

But Moscow faces mounting accusations that it interfered in the election to help propel Trump into the White House. As a result, Trump faces pressure at home and from US allies to take a combative tone.

In a key speech in Warsaw yesterday, Trump fired a rare salvo of criticism at Russia, but did not name Putin specifically.

The G20 leaders Source: Michael Kappeler/AP

“We urge Russia to cease its destabilising activities in Ukraine and elsewhere, and its support for hostile regimes — including Syria and Iran — and to instead join the community of responsible nations in our fight against common enemies and in defence of civilisation itself,” he told a cheering crowd of about 10,000 people.

A White House source confirmed to AFP that Trump will be joined at the meeting only by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and a translator, an extraordinarily small cast list that raised concerns among experts.

“Neither Tillerson or Trump have any experience of foreign policy. That is one reason why they need pros in the room when meeting Putin,” Thomas Wright of the Brookings Institution said.

Clashes with protesters

Meanwhile, outside the heavily-guarded conference hall, tensions were high with police clashing with demonstrators again early today following a night of running battles that left more than 100 police officers injured.

Beginning early today, activists torched more cars, smashed shop windows, fired flares at the police helicopters and even slashed tyres on vehicles belonging to the Canadian delegation.

Small groups played cat-and-mouse with the 20,000 police on duty to try and stop the leaders even getting to the summit venue.

“It’s a total catastrophe that a minority can just riot like this,” a local resident told AFP. “These idiots have nothing better to do than to demonstrate. They have to be moved out.”

- © AFP 2017 with reporting by Michelle Hennessy

Read: Scores of police injured in violent protests ahead of Trump-Putin showdown at G20>

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