Trump, Putin meet in Helsinki, hold joint press conference

UPDATE — 7/17, 2:52 p.m. EDT: After overwhelming criticism from virtually every corner of American politics for his lack of moxie at Monday’s news conference alongside Russia’s Vladimir Putin, President Trump reversed course a day later telling White House reporters the Kremlin did meddle in the 2016 presidential election based on intelligence gathered by U.S. agencies. 

While U.S. congressional leaders were nearly unanimous in their condemnation of Trump’s ambivalent attitude toward Moscow’s aggression, the Trump-Putin summit received rave reviews in Russia: a state paper’s headline read, “The West’s attempts to isolate Russia failed,” and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov lauded the meeting as, “Magnificent. . . . Better than super.”

 

Amid questions over alleged Russian election meddling, differences in Syria and tension over Moscow’s annexation of Crimea, President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin held their first official meeting in Helsinki, Finland, on Monday.

Emerging after four hours, two of which were one-on-one, both Mr. Trump and Mr. Putin declined to offer details on specifics of their discussion, but the duo held a 45-minute joint press conference following the meeting.

Taking the podiums after their conversation, Putin spoke first and described the conversation with Trump as “frank, businesslike, and a success.”

Portraying U.S.-Russian relations as “complicated” for no valid reason, Putin went on to recount a catalog of global issues requiring attention and expressed his wish for improved ties to “restore the acceptable level of trust and going back to the previous level of interaction on all mutual interests issues.”

“Today both Russia and the United States face a whole new set of challenges. Those include a dangerous maladjustment of mechanisms for maintaining international security and stability, regional crises, the creeping threats of terrorism and transnational crime, the snowballing problems in the economy, environmental risks and other sets of challenges.”

Specific to matters relating to the U.S., Putin revealed he spoke to the U.S. anti-missile defense system, the INF treaty and his continued desire for the peaceful use of outer space.

Mr. Putin also added his ambition to bilaterally disarm, increase military cooperation, advance strategic arms agreements, implementation of the Minsk accords with American support, concern with the U.S. withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal and American efforts to being the nuclear standoff on the Korean peninsula to an end.

Following Putin’s opening remarks, Trump responded, saying the difficulties of the recent past were altered after their private meeting.

“Even during the tensions of the Cold War, when the world looked much different than it does today, the United States and Russia were able to maintain a strong dialogue. Constructive dialogue between the United States and Russia afford the opportunity to open new pathways toward peace and stability in our world,” Trump said.

Addressing the matter of alleged Russian election interference directly, Trump again denied his campaign colluded with private Russian citizens or Kremlin officials to win the White House and seconded Mr. Putin’s denial by disputing the findings of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s indictments of 12 Russians one week ago:

“There was no collusion. I didn’t know the president. I had no-one to collude with.  President Putin he just said it’s not Russia, let me just say, I don’t see any reason why it would be.” 

Additionally, Trump took the opportunity of the press conference, in which he received several questions regarding the Russia probe, to hit the investigation as as a “disaster for our country” which has continued to divide Russia and the U.S.

For his part in similar inquiries from journalists, Putin admitted he did in fact desire to see Trump triumph over Democratic rival Hillary Clinton in 2016 for the reason “(Trump) talked about bringing the U.S. Russia relationship back to normal.”

Discussing further the Russia probe, both men admitted in private conversation they had considered a joint U.S.-Russian investigation of alleged election meddling.

Responding the U.S. should take advantage of a 1999 agreement on mutual legal assistance, Putin said the pact would allow U.S. investigators the right to speak to the 12 indicted men alongside Russian investigators.

In a lighter moment, when asked if the Russian government possessed compromising information on Trump or his family, Mr. Putin responded with a laugh:

“When President Trump was in Moscow back then, I didn’t even know that he was in Moscow.”  

In other areas of discussion, Trump offered hints he has no intention of blocking a German-Russian agreement on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, saying the U.S. would have to find ways to compete with the pipeline and found common cause over the humanitarian crisis in Syria.

 

[BBC] [NPR] [Bloomberg] [Reuters] [Photo courtesy REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque via The Indian Express]