U.S. President Donald Trump “pressed” Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on Moscow’s meddling in last year’s U.S. presidential election at their first face-to-face meeting Friday, according to U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
Tillerson said Putin denied Russian involvement in the election, although the two leaders had a “very robust and lengthy exchange on the subject.”
“The president pressed President Putin on more than one occasion regarding Russian involvement,” Tillerson told reporters after the two leaders’ meeting that overshadowed the gathering in Hamburg, Germany, of the leaders of the world’s 20 largest economies.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who also attended the meeting, later said that Trump accepted Putin’s statements that Russia had not interfered in the election.
Tillerson said the two leaders agreed to continue the discussion, with the intent of securing a commitment from Russia not to meddle in U.S. affairs in the future. He said there was no sign that the two countries would ever agree on the issue, so both leaders were focused on moving forward.
There are several ongoing investigations into whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia and interfered in last November’s U.S. presidential election.
At a joint news conference Thursday in Warsaw with Polish President Andrzej Duda, Trump addressed Russia’s involvement. “I think it was Russia, but I think it was probably other people and/or countries,” Trump said. “Nobody really knows for sure.”
Trump’s stance on the issue has been somewhat at odds with the U.S. intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia meddled in the election and with testimony his own nominees presented before Congress.
The meeting also produced an agreement designed to de-escalate fighting in Syria. The two leaders agreed to a cease-fire in southwestern Syria, a deal that increases U.S. involvement in the effort to resolve the Syrian civil war.
Israel and Jordan, which share a border with southern Syria, also have agreed to the cease-fire, which is set to take effect Sunday.
Although both the U.S. and Russia oppose the Islamic State militant group in Syria, the two countries have thrown their support behind opposing sides in the war. The U.S. supports rebel forces who are opposed to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who has the support of Moscow.
The agreement could give the U.S. more influence over who fills a leadership void that is developing as Islamic State is forced out of its most important Syrian strongholds.
The U.S. and Russia have been negotiating the cease-fire for some time, and it came to fruition at the formal bilateral meeting that was highly anticipated by the international community.
The meeting was fraught with symbolism as Trump, still new to the world of global diplomacy, sat down with Putin, a former KGB agent, who came to power in what amounted to a Kremlin coup 17 years ago.
The meeting was closely scrutinized for signs of how the two leaders interacted. Relations between Putin and former President Barack Obama were strained, and Trump repeatedly has said he would like to improve ties with Russia.