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Trump jokes to Putin: 'Don't meddle in the election, please'

Trump came face to face with Putin for the first time since extensive evidence was found of Russian interference in the 2016 US election.

US President Donald Trump meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin during a bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in Osaka, Japan
US President Donald Trump meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin during a bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in Osaka, Japan
Image: Susan Walsh via PA IMages

US PRESIDENT DONALD Trump has hailed his “very, very good relationship” with Russian President Vladimir Putin as the two leaders held talks on the sidelines of the G20 meeting.

Trump came face to face with Putin for the first time since the special counsel found extensive evidence of Russian interference in the 2016 US election.

When asked if he would warn Russia not to meddle in the next election, Trump wore a bit of a smile, pointed his finger at Putin and dryly said: “Don’t meddle in the election, please.”

Asked before travelling to Japan about the planned talks, Trump told reporters the content of the discussions was “none of your business”.

“I’ll have a very good conversation with him,” Trump told reporters at the White House. “What I say to him is none of your business.”

Trump has been dogged throughout his presidency by allegations of suspicious ties to Russia.

Their meeting in Japan was the first time the two sat together publicly since their summit in Helsinki nearly a year ago in which Trump did not admonish Putin over election interference and did not side with US intelligence services over his Russian counterpart.

Trump G20 US Russia Trump gestures as Putin arrives for the talks during a bilateral meeting Source: Mikhail Klimentyev via PA Images

A major probe led by special prosecutor Robert Mueller found there was an organised Russian campaign to influence the 2016 election won by Trump. It found contacts between Russian operatives and Trump’s election campaign, but no evidence of a joint plot.

Trump has characterised Mueller’s findings as a complete exoneration. However, he remains under fire from opponents for what they say is his consistently opaque relationship with Putin.

Putin has denied that Russia meddled in the American election to help Trump win, even though Mueller uncovered extensive evidence to the contrary. At the news conference that followed the Helsinki summit, Trump responded to a reporter’s question by declining to denounce Russia’s election interference or side with his own intelligence agencies over Putin.

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer had pressed the president to directly challenge the Russian leader on election interference and send a signal “not merely to Putin but to all of our adversaries that interfering with our election is unacceptable, and that they will pay a price — a strong price — for trying.”

The US and Russia are also on opposing sides of the escalating crisis with Iran, which shot down an American drone last week. Trump nixed a possible retaliatory air strike and stressed that the “there’s no rush. There’s absolutely no time pressure” to ease the tension with Tehran.

Japan G20 Trudeau Leaders pose for a group photo at the G20 Summit in Osaka, Japan Source: Adrian Wyld via PA Images

Trump opened the G20 summit in Japan by meeting with the host, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, followed by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. He sounded optimistic about signing trade deals with all three and praised alliances he has strained in the past.

The president, who in the past has disrupted carefully choreographed summits by attacking allies and adversaries alike, made no public mention of his recent complaints that the US military alliance with Japan is one-sided, that Germany was taking advantage of the US on support for NATO and that India’s tariffs on the US “must be withdrawn!”

Abe and Trump discussed trade and North Korea, while the three leaders spoke about enhanced security cooperation in the South China Sea and Huawei, the Chinese telecommunications giant that Trump has put on a blacklist and is viewed as a national security threat because of the possibility that its equipment could be used for cyberespionage.

Earlier, as Abe officially received Trump, the president waved over his daughter Ivanka Trump and son-in-law Jared Kushner, both senior White House aides, to pose with him for the official welcome photo. Trump and Abe were later joined by Modi and the portion of the meeting open to reporters was convivial: at Trump’s urging, the three leaders engaged in a group fist bump.

With reporting from © – AFP 2019

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