President Trump and Russia’s Vladimir Putin apparently had much to discuss in their first formal meeting Friday, sitting down for more than two hours on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in Hamburg, Germany.
The longer-than-expected meeting ended just before 6:30 p.m. local time. As the meeting was wrapping up, The Associated Press reported the U.S. and Russia reached an agreement for a cease-fire in southwest Syria, to take effect July 9.
Syria was perhaps the toughest of many issues on the table for the highly anticipated talks. As the two sat down, Trump said they’ve had “very, very good talks” that will continue.
“We look forward to a lot of very positive things happening, with Russia and the United States and for everybody concerned,” Trump said, telling Putin: “It’s an honor to be with you.”
Trump, Putin, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov were in the room for Friday’s high-profile meeting.
Given the controversy surrounding alleged Russian meddling in the U.S. presidential election and Democrats’ efforts to tie Trump to Putin, the first meeting between the men was being closely watched.
Building expectations, Trump tweeted ahead of the meeting: “I will represent our country well and fight for its interests! Fake News Media will never cover me accurately but who cares! We will [Make America Great Again]!”
The Trump-Putin powwow comes amid shifting Trump rhetoric, as the president has begun taking a harder line with Russia. Trump was complimentary of Putin as recently as the October presidential debates, and during the election he often said he hoped the U.S. and Russia could improve relations.
But since assuming office Trump’s optimism has waned, and he’s criticized Russia for its unflinching support of Syrian leader Bashar Assad, even as he used chemical weapons. The U.S. also incurred Russian ire by agreeing to sell patriot missiles to Poland, and in a highly praised speech in Warsaw on Thursday, Trump specifically called out Russia for its subversive activities worldwide.
“We urge Russia to cease its destabilizing 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 the defense of civilization itself,” Trump said.
Still, the change in tone has not been enough for some U.S. lawmakers, who have urged Trump to confront Putin face-to-face over the alleged election meddling.
Asked on Thursday about the election meddling, Trump conceded he believed Russia was probably responsible — but was quick to add the Kremlin may not have been the lone foreign entity trying to sow discord in American politics.
The two world leaders are famous for their alpha-male personas. Putin is known as a skilled statesman, while Trump defines himself as a great businessman and world-class negotiator.
The Putin meeting is the highlight of a hectic, four-day European visit for Trump, who addressed thousands of Poles in an outdoor speech in Warsaw, Poland, on Thursday. He met in Germany with Chancellor Angela Merkel, the summit host, and had dinner with two Asian allies — Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and South Korean President Moon Jae-in — to discuss North Korea’s aggression.