United States Presidents Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin vowed a fresh start to troubled relations between the world’s greatest nuclear powers at their first summit yesterday, as the American leader rejected a chance to condemn Moscow’s alleged manipulation of US elections.
The US and Russian leaders came out of their meeting in Helsinki expressing a desire to cooperate on global challenges, after talks on an array of issues from Syria, Ukraine and China to trade tariffs and the size of their nuclear arsenals.
Standing alongside Putin at a joint news conference, Trump said he had “spent a great deal of time talking about” election meddling, without going into detail or explicitly condemning any interference, after 12 Russian agents were indicted in the United States.
Rather, when pressed about the verdict of his own intelligence chiefs, Trump stressed that Putin had delivered a “powerful” denial of any Russian vote meddling and said the US investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller had been a “disaster” for the United States.
Trump again denied any collusion between his campaign and the Kremlin, while Putin insisted: “The Russian state has never interfered and is not planning to interfere in the USA’s internal affairs.”
The US leader, bent on forging a personal bond with the Kremlin chief despite the election allegations, went into the summit blaming the “stupidity” of his predecessors for plunging ties to their present low. Afterwards, both men were determined to accentuate the positive.
“Our relationship has never been worse than it is now. However, that changed as of about four hours ago. I really believe that,” Trump said, vowing the summit was “only the beginning”.
Putin said: “It is obvious
to everyone that bilateral ties are going through a difficult period. However there are no objective reasons for these difficulties, the current tense atmosphere.”
Praising the “frank and business-like atmosphere” of the summit, the Russian leader said he considered the talks “very successful and useful”.
The two leaders met one-on-one for more than two hours in the Finnish capital for the historic summit, with just their interpreters present, before they were joined by their national security teams.
Many in Washington were agog at Trump’s decision to sit alone with Putin, worried about what he might bargain away to the former KGB spymaster, after previously cozying up to the autocratic leaders of China and North Korea. Indeed, some domestic critics wanted the Helsinki summit called off entirely, after the 12 Russians were indicted by Mueller under a long-running probe into Moscow’s alleged hacking of Democratic emails in a bid to drive Trump to vic- tory.
But Trump, convinced his unique brand of diplomacy could make inroads with Putin, pressed ahead and looked forward to “having an extraordinary relationship” as the pair sat down to discuss the global hotspots.
Putin, basking in congratulations from Trump and other world leaders for the successful staging of the World Cup in Russia, said: “The time has come to talk in a substantive way about our relations and problem areas of the world.”