President Donald Trump opened his first meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday by raising U.S. concerns about Moscow's meddling in the 2016 presidential election, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said. He said Putin denied being involved.
Trump's decision to confront Putin directly over election interference fulfilled ardent demands by U.S. lawmakers of both parties that the president not shy away from the issue in his highly anticipated meeting with Putin. Trump has avoided stating unequivocally in the past that Russia interfered, even as investigations proceed into whether Trump's campaign colluded with Russians who sought to help him win.
Putin's denial of culpability notwithstanding, he and Trump agreed that the issue has become a hindrance to better relations between the two powers, said Tillerson, who attended the more-than-two-hour meeting along with Russia's foreign minister. Tillerson said the discussion about the election meddling was "robust and lengthy."
Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Tillerson said the two leaders had agreed to continue the discussion, with an eye toward securing a commitment that Russia won't interfere in U.S. affairs in the future.
"I think the president is rightly focused on how do we move forward from something that may be an intractable disagreement at this point," Tillerson said.
In their meeting, the two also discussed a cease-fire deal deal for southwestern Syria that was reached by Russia and the United States and first reported Friday by The Associated Press. Though the U.S. and Russia have held conflicting views on Syria in the past, Tillerson said Russia had an interest in seeing the Mideast nation become a stable place.
The heavily anticipated meeting has been closely scrutinized for signs of how friendly a rapport Trump and Putin will have. Trump's predecessor, President Barack Obama, had notoriously strained ties to Putin, and Trump has expressed an interest in a better U.S.-Russia relationship.
But deep skepticism about Russia in the U.S. and ongoing investigations into whether Trump's campaign coordinated with Moscow during last year's election have made a U.S.-Russia detente politically risky for Trump.
The Putin meeting came midway through 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.
Earlay in the meeting, Trump and Putin spoke to the press in short remarks. In characteristically confident fashion, Trump said he and the Russian leader were holding "very, very good talks" and said it was "an honor" to be with Putin.
"We look forward to a lot of very positive things happening for Russia, for the United States and for everybody concerned," Trump said.
Trump offered no details about what issues he and the Russian leader had discussed, describing them only as "various things." Putin was similarly vague, telling reporters through a translator that they were discussing international problems and bilateral issues.
Still, Putin described the fact that they were meeting as a positive sign in itself, and he said he hoped the meeting would "yield positive results."
"Phone conversations are never enough definitely," Putin said. "If you want to have a positive outcome in bilaterals and be able to resolve most international policy issues, that will really need personal meetings."
Then the leaders shook hands firmly but briefly before reporters were escorted out of the room. Both kept their composure amid the commotion of cameras clicking and journalists lobbying questions as anxious aides moved about nearby. The U.S. leader's son, Donald Trump Jr., took to Twitter to say the noise from the cameras made it difficult to even hear the two leaders' words.
"How many pictures do you need of the same scene?" he said.
Outside the summit site, anti-globalization protesters were causing problems for first lady Melania Trump, who was kept from joining other leaders' spouses for their own program of events. Mrs. Trump's office said local police hadn't cleared her to leave the government guest house where she and Trump were staying because of the protests, in which demonstrators set dozens of cars ablaze.
AP writer Josh Lederman contributed to this report.