US and Russia disagree over G20 talks on election meddling

White House disputes Russian version of events during Trump-Putin meeting

Russian president Vladimir Putin and US president Donald Trump's 30-minute meeting ran to over two hours. Video: The White House


Russian president Vladimir Putin used his first meeting with US president Donald Trump to deny any interference in the last year’s US election. Their two-hour meeting took place on the sidelines of the Group of 20 meeting in Hamburg, ahead of expected all-night wrangling with the US over a statement backing global trade.

After a 30-minute meeting that ran to over two hours, Russian and US foreign ministers gave different version of what US officials called a “lengthy and robust exchange”.

Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said the US president agreed there was no evidence of Russian election interference and accepted Mr Putin’s denial of involvement. This claim was quickly disputed by the White House. US secretary of state Rex Tillerson said the two sides had “intractable” positions on the matter.

Ahead of their talks, with journalists in the room, Mr Trump told Mr Putin: “We look forward to a lot of very positive things happening . . . It is an honour to be with you.”

Seated alongside their respective foreign ministers and two interpreters, Mr Putin said he hoped the meeting would “yield positive results”.

Bilateral problems

Over two hours later, Mr Putin said they had discussed “Ukraine, Syria and other bilateral problems”.

According to US officials, Washington and Moscow agreed a de-escalation plan for Syria, including a limited no-fly zone from Sunday at noon. The US has also appointed Kurt Volker, a former US ambassador to Nato, as special envoy to Ukraine.

The Hamburg talks wrap up today after a week of high security and days of anti-G20 demonstrations, including violent clashes, smashed shop windows and burning cars over the last two nights.

Yesterday evening, as leaders attended a Beethoven concert in Hamburg’s new Elbphilharmonie concert hall, protestors built barricades and clashed with police just 2km away in the alternative Schanzenviertel district.

As police reinforcements were rushed into Hamburg from around Germany, one officer was hospitalised with a fractured skull while another plain-clothes officer fired a warning shot after being “massively attacked” by protestors, Hamburg police said.

Earlier in the day, protestors blocked routes to the G20 summit in Hamburg’s city-centre trade fair, causing delays to the programme for partners of G20 leaders.

US first lady Melania Trump was unable to leave her accommodation for a time, her spokesperson told Germany’s DPA news agency.

‘Tricky’ talks

G20 summit host German chancellor Angela Merkel admitted that “tricky” all-night talks loomed as her officials attempted to negotiate a final summit communique that all countries can endorse.

Particularly awkward, according to Berlin officials, are passages backing free trade, given the Trump administration’s opposition to trade deals it sees as detrimental to US interests.

“Talks are particularly difficult here, there’s no two ways about it,” Ms Merkel said.

The German leader is torn between diluting summit conclusions in the interests of unity, or isolating the US to stand by key pledges on the climate and free trade ahead of her September re-election bid.