The Cable

5 Takeaways From the ‘Very Robust,’ 2-Hour Meeting Between Trump and Putin

Clarity on Trump's stance on electoral meddling in the 2016 elections is not one of them.

putin trump

Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Donald Trump finally had their first, and much-awaited, face-to-face meeting as world leaders on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in Hamburg on Friday.

It was hard for Americans to suss out just what had happened in the meeting, which lasted much, much longer than expected. Unlike his Russian counterpart, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson did not hold an on-camera briefing after the meeting’s conclusion, ceding to Moscow the narrative about what happened behind closed doors.

Tillerson said the meeting was “very robust,” “very constructive,” and featured that most important element of diplomacy, “clear positive chemistry.”

Flying sparks and fawning eyes aside, here are five big takeaways from the Trump-Putin summit.

We’re no closer to getting a straight answer from Trump as to what role, exactly, he thinks Russia played in the 2016 presidential election.

By all accounts, Russia’s meddling in the U.S. election came up in the meeting. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, with decades of diplomatic experience, said Trump accepted Putin’s explanation that Russia did not hack America’s 2016 presidential elections. Lavrov also said, “Trump mentioned that in the U.S. certain circles still inflate subject of Russian meddling in elections, even though they have no proof.”

Tillerson said that Trump raised the issue with Putin, who denied a Russian role, and that the two see no point in relitigating the past.

“The two leaders agreed, though, that this is a substantial hindrance in the ability of us to move the Russian-U.S. relationship forward, and agreed to exchange further work regarding commitments of non-interference in the affairs of the United States and our democratic process as well as those of other countries.”

Anonymous administration officials, who the White House says cannot be trusted, later told CNN that Trump did not accept Putin’s claims.

But Russia and the United States have agreed to work together on cybersecurity.

The two sides agreed not to (further?) interfere in one another’s affairs and cooperate on keeping their cyber strong. Or, to use Tillerson’s parlance, they “agreed to explore creating a framework around which the two countries can work together to better understand how to deal with these cyber threats, both in terms of how these tools are used to in interfere with the internal affairs of countries, but also how these tools are used to threaten infrastructure, how these tools are used from a terrorism standpoint as well.” 

Putin and Trump bonded over their hostility toward a free press.

Another cease-fire was brokered in Syria.

However, there are still “details” to be worked out as to who will enforce it. Also, Israel hates the idea. And Tillerson acknowledged that previous cease-fires have failed quickly.

The two countries have more in common than separating them.

This, according to Tillerson. “I would tell you that, by and large, our objectives are exactly the same.” (That stuck in the throat of U.S. foreign-policy experts.)

Those areas of common ground do not, however, include Ukraine, North Korea’s nuclear program, or the U.S. deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile defense system to South Korea, which Russia has said should stop, and which apparently did not come up in the two-hour-and-15-minute meeting.

Photo credit: SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

Emily Tamkin is the U.S. editor of the New Statesman and the author of The Influence of Soros, published July 2020. Twitter: @emilyctamkin

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