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Trump-Putin meeting dominates G20 as Russia denies interfering in US election/LIVE Hamburg protest updates

The Guardian – By Patrick Wintour/Anushka Asthana in Hamburg – Friday 7 July 2017
595f99fffc7e93696a8b456aPhoto: Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump shake hands during a bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Hamburg Friday. Photograph: TASS / Barcroft Images.

Donald Trump began his highly anticipated first meeting with Vladimir Putin since his election with a direct warning to stop interfering in American elections – a charge the Russian president denied – the US secretary of state said on Friday.

Friday’s meeting, on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Hamburg, lasted two hours and 16 minutes, far longer than expected.

Allegations that Russia intervened to tip the election in Trump’s favour have dogged the US president since last year. But when the two men met Putin denied any involvement, secretary of state Rex Tillerson told reporters.

The meeting between the two presidents was held on a day of intense diplomacy on topics ranging from Syria, North Korea, climate change and trade wars – all conducted against the backdrop of running violent street protests.

But the sheer drama, unexpected duration and unpredictability of the Trump-Putin meeting dominated the day. The two leaders gingerly opened a new chapter of bilateral relations with the announcement of a joint approach in Syria – but they also discussed Russia’s alleged attempts to sway the 2016 election in Trump’s favour.

Many US Democrats had demanded Trump discuss Russian cyber interference with Putin. Tillerson said that Trump twice directly raised the issue with his Russian counterpart.

Tillerson said the two men had “a very robust and lengthy exchange on the subject” and said that the US was demanding a future commitment from Russia that it would not interfere in American democracy.

“The president pressed President Putin on more than one occasion regarding Russian involvement. President Putin denied such involvement, as I think he has in the past,” Tillerson said.

Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters that Trump had accepted Putin’s denial of involvement. Tillerson also suggested that the two sides might never come to a resolution over the alleged interference – suggesting that both leaders hoped to draw a line under the matter.

Tillerson said the meeting was “rightly focused on how do we move forward from something that may be an intractable disagreement at this point”.

In a bid to keep the focus on the personal chemistry between the strong men, only Tillerson and Lavrov attended the meeting, along with two translators.

“There was a very clear positive chemistry between the two,” Tillerson said. “There was not a lot of re-litigating things from the past.”

But the comments marked a shift on the part of the US president: on Thursday, Trump accepted that Russia had attempted to intervene in his favour, but suggested that other countries may also have been involved.

The focus on the Trump-Putin meeting angered the host nation Germany, which had been preparing its own elaborate agenda for the G20 for over a year.

The day saw scraps between the German chancellor Angela Merkel and Trump over climate change, while the EU threatened immediate retaliatory sanctions against the US if it went ahead with plans to slap tariffs on steel imports.

Police forces around Germany dispatched reinforcements to help 15,000 officers already deployed to Hamburg for the summit as violence escalated. A police spokesman said that a group of about 60 masked protesters attacked three police vehicles with molotov cocktails, and that a flare fired at a police helicopter only narrowly missed its target.

Emmanuel Macron, the French president, warned that the rise of nationalism could lead to war, and offered his US counterpart a lesson on trade in a tense meeting, sources have revealed.

After Trump had told the group of his America-first approach to trade, in which he stated his determination to protect workers in his country, Macron reportedly took out his mobile phone in order to illustrate his thoughts on the issue.

Macron, according to diplomatic sources, argued that if his phone was made in America that would be a trade deficit in France, but the fact that America had imported parts to build the device from China would give it a deficit elsewhere.

A source said Macron’s aim during the working lunch was to stress that trade was not simply a two-way street.

Although the drama of the confrontation over Putin’s interference in the US elections was striking, an announcement about a joint approach on Syria – starting with a ceasefire in the south-west of the country – may have greater long-term significance.

Innumerable ceasefires have been announced and broken down in Syria before, but the latest announcement may be seen as a precursor to a national ceasefire and even the US endorsement of a joint Russian-Turkish plan for “de-escalation zones” in the areas of greatest conflict between the Assad regime and the rebels.

The US has been increasingly explicit that it no longer expects that Assad must stand aside as part of a political settlement, but there is no still agreement on the future political shape of Syria if and when Islamic State is defeated. The ceasefire could create the space for a discussion about Syria’s future, including Putin’s long-sought joint approach to defeating extremist rebel groups.

The new south-west ceasefire in Syria, endorsed by Jordan and Israel, will start on Sunday and is indefinite.

US officials said the possible start of a fruitful Trump-Putin relationship, founded on a joint solution in Syria, did not mean longstanding tensions had evaporated over a range of other critical issues such as North Korea, protectionism, cyber-security and Ukraine.

Putin urged Trump to lower his rhetoric over North Korea’s apparent firing of an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of reaching US soil.

Putin said the “North Korean nuclear program is a very acute problem. We must not lose our self-command; we need to act pragmatically and very carefully.” But Tillerson said that although a peaceful pressure campaign could continue, if it did not work, there were few options left.

Forming an alliance with the new South Korean president, Moon Jae-in, Putin argued the US needs to keep its focus on further sanctions and dialogue, rather than military measures.

Read entire article here

PS Very pleased to see that they are respecting each other and have agreed to talk together & work some things out.

Stay tuned with LIVE updates from Hamburg, Germany here

Posted by Teri Perticone

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