Trump, Putin criticised for exclusive nature of first face-to-face meeting
US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin held their first face-to-face talks on the sidelines of a G20 summit in Hamburg on Friday accompanied by just their foreign ministers.
“We look forward to a lot of very positive things happening for Russia and the United States,” Trump said as he headed into the talks.
Reporters were allowed in for part of the meeting but the two men declined to offer details about what was discussed, with Trump saying only that “various things” had been covered and that the talks were “going very well”.
Putin said through a translator that international issues and bilateral relations had been among the topics of conversation. The two men had been widely expected to discuss the war in Syria and recent North Korean missile tests.
Trump came under fire ahead of his meeting with Putin for not vowing to address allegations of Russian meddling in the US presidential election and for not including seasoned foreign policy staff in his first talks with the Russian leader.
Only Trump, Putin, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and US Secretary of State Rex Tillersonwere present for the talks, accompanied by two translators. Neither Tillerson nor Trump have previous foreign policy or national security experience, and the decision not to include National Security Adviser HR McMaster – a veteran security officer – at the talks raised some eyebrows.
Kremlin ‘dictating the terms’
“Putin was and is a KGB officer, and KGB officers are specialists at one thing: seduction, how to persuade others to do what you want,” John Herbst, a foreign policy expert at the Atlantic Council and a former US ambassador to Ukraine, told the Los Angeles Times ahead of the closely watched meeting.
Such concerns over the lack of foreign policy pros in the room may have taken on a particular urgency after Trump revealed highly classified information on the plans of the Islamic State (IS) group during a May 10 meeting with Lavrov and Russia’s ambassador to the United States, Sergei Kislyak.
Michael McFaul, a former US ambassador to Moscow and former president Barack Obama’s adviser on Russian affairs, expressed concern that McMaster was being left out of talks.
“Putin likes small meetings. This means WH (White House) is letting Kremlin dictate the terms of this meeting. HR [McMaster], at a minimum, should also be there,” he wrote on Twitter.
McFaul also tweeted a picture of Obama’s first meeting with Putin in July 2009 at Putin’s Novo-Ogaryovo resident outside Moscow, noting that Obama was accompanied by national security adviser Jim Jones, undersecretary of state William Burns as well as McFaul himself.