Putin and Trump met Friday in Hamburg
Discussion included situations in Syria, Ukraine and 2016 election interference
US and Russian attendees disagreed over what Trump said regarding Putin's assurances Russia wasn't involved
But a diplomatic dust-up immediately broke out after the session when Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Trump accepted Putin’s assurances there was no Russian involvement in the 2016 American election.
The dispute only underscores the challenges that remain in the fraught relationship between the United States and Russia, whose 2016 election meddling has hung over the Trump White House for months as multiple investigations proceed in Washington.
Trump opened the session by “raising the concerns of the American people regarding Russian interference in the 2016 election,” US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in an off-camera briefing after the meeting. Russia asked for “proof and evidence” it was involved, which the US did not produce in the meeting.
“They had a very robust and lengthy exchange on the subject,” Tillerson said. “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.”
Lavrov, speaking on camera in a separate briefing, said that Trump was OK with Putin’s version of events.
“President Trump said he’s heard Putin’s very clear statements that this is not true and that the Russian government didn’t interfere in the elections and that he accepts these statements. That’s all,” Lavrov said, according to a CNN translation.
Both Tillerson and Lavrov were in the room with Trump and Putin for the bilateral talks.
A senior Trump administration official immediately denied that Trump accepted Putin’s claim of non-interference.
Trump pressed Putin on election meddling and then moved on, Tillerson said.
“I think what the two presidents, I think rightly, focused on is how do we move forward,” he said. “How do we move forward from here?”
Despite broaching the topic with Putin, Trump’s concern over the matter remains, given the President’s repeated questioning – as recently as Thursday in Poland – whether Russia was involved in the 2016 meddling.
“I think it very well could be Russia, but I think it could very well have been other countries,” Trump said during a news conference with Polish President Andrzej Duda.
US intelligence agencies concluded in a report released earlier this year that Russia ordered an “influence campaign” to harm Hillary Clinton’s chances of winning the election.
Talks Friday focused on how the two countries “secure a commitment that the Russian government has no intention” of interfering in future elections, Tillerson added. “How do we have a framework where we have capability to judge what is happening in the cyberworld.”
Tillerson described the meeting as “very constructive” and said the two leaders “connected very quickly.”
“There was a very clear positive chemistry,” Tillerson said.
First lady Melania Trump entered the meeting about an hour into the session to see if the leaders wanted to wrap up, but that the talks lasted another hour after that, Tillerson said.
After the session, Tillerson announced a ceasefire in southwest Syria.
The deal was a “defined agreement” and could be a precursor to further cooperation in Syria, he said.
“This is our first indication of the US and Russia being able to work together in Syria,” Tillerson said. The leaders had a “lengthy discussion regarding other areas in Syria where we can work together.”
According to Russian state-run Sputnik media, the leaders discussed the situation in Ukraine and Syria, the fight against terrorism and cyb