U.S. President Donald Trump and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin have agreed to work on improving relations between the two superpowers in their first meeting since a report detailed Moscow’s organized campaign to influence U.S. elections.
The June 28 meeting during a G20 summit in Osaka, Japan, got off to a bumpy start when Trump was asked about whether the issue of election meddling would be discussed.
Trump replied that “of course I will,” prompting an awkward smile from Putin.
The U.S. president then sardonically told Putin “don’t meddle in the election” while pointing a finger at him.
The meeting came as relations between the two nations have tumbled to a post-Cold War low even as the leaders profess good personal ties.
Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine and the Kremlin’s backing of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad have strained relations between Washington and Moscow for years.
A U.S. federal investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, which was submitted in March, documented extensive evidence of Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election, an accusation which Putin has denied.
Against such a backdrop of fractious bilateral and international issues, expectations of any landmark decisions emerging from the meeting were muted.
A White House statement released via a press pool report from the 80-minute meeting appeared to show the low expectations were met.
“Both leaders agreed that improved relations between the United States and Russia was in each countries’ mutual interest and the interest of the world,” the statement read.
“The leaders also discussed the situations in Iran, Syria, Venezuela, and Ukraine,” it added.
The meeting was also the two leaders' first face-to-face discussion since a Helsinki summit in July during which Trump refused to allow any advisers to join him and whose details he declined to share with Congress.
Trump canceled his last planned meeting with Putin at the G20 in Argentina in November 2018 after Russia seized two Ukrainian vessels and their crew in the Sea of Azov. The two, though, did speak briefly on the sidelines of that event.