U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said President Donald Trump put the issue of Russian meddling in U.S. elections at the top of his agenda when the two leaders met in their first face-to-face talks on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in Germany Friday.
The meeting appeared to have gone better than expected, with Tillerson describing a “clear, positive chemistry” between the two leaders.
The conversation was the most anticipated event of this Group of 20 summit. The encounter was scheduled to last 30 minutes but went for more than 2 hours and 15 minutes.
‘Concerns of the American people’
“The president opened the meeting with [Russian] President [Vladimir] Putin by raising the concerns of the American people regarding Russian interference in the 2016 election. They had a very robust and lengthy exchange on the subject,” Tillerson told reporters.
Tillerson said Putin denied Russian involvement.
“The two leaders agreed, though, that this is a substantial hindrance in the ability of us to move the U.S.-Russian relationship forward and agreed to exchange further work regarding commitments of noninterference in the affairs of the United States and our democratic processes as well as those of other countries,” Tillerson said.
Russian officials said Putin asked Trump for proof of tampering.
Tillerson also confirmed an agreement had been reached among the United States, Russia and Jordan for a partial cease-fire in Syria, something he said was a “first indication of the U.S. and Russia being able to work together in Syria.”
It was apparent Trump and Putin enjoyed each other’s company.
Trump said to Putin that the U.S. looks forward to “a lot of very positive things happening for Russia and for the United States.”
He also told Putin it was an “honor” to meet him, and Putin reciprocated, saying he was “delighted” to finally meet Trump personally.
Leaders of the world’s richest economies opened the summit with low expectations and much anxiety on the part of those concerned about what they perceive as possible isolationist and protectionist tendencies of the new U.S. administration.
The host, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who was not hopeful of achieving much consensus, called on leaders to make compromises.
“We all know the big global challenges, and we know that time is pressing, and that’s why solutions often can only be found if we are ready for compromise and if we move toward each other, without however — and I am saying this explicitly — letting ourselves be influenced too much,” Merkel said Friday.
The turmoil and discord were also evident outside the summit venue.
On the streets of Hamburg, it was another day of violent clashes between anti-capitalist demonstrators and anti-riot police.
Security forces used water cannons to disperse demonstrators who tried to prevent delegations from reaching the G-20 venue. Angry demonstrators set cars ablaze.
The demonstrators spread to various streets of the city, sometimes forming human chains to block access by delegations to the summit site.
German officials had been anticipating big protests in the city in the run-up to the two-day gathering and have deployed 20,000 officers.
Police officials said 8,000 demonstrators were in the city Friday, and they anticipated the protests to peak Saturday when they expected as many as 100,000 protesters on the streets.
Protesters have set up camps in central Hamburg, where they have been sleeping in tents and lining up for free vegan meals.
Most demonstrators approached by a reporter at two camps were reluctant to be interviewed.
“People are really suspicious about the media. They feel that the media is more against us than with us, that the media is more with the G-20 and not with the protests, and that makes people suspicious,” a demonstrator told VOA.
The protesters’ general aim is to disrupt the G-20 summit.
Most support leftist and anarchist causes and see the grouping as a gathering of the world’s wealthy elite whom they blame for global economic disparities. Their target is largely Trump, and many said they were outraged by his decision to pull the United States out of the Paris climate accord.
The demonstrators, who were largely German, also took aim at Merkel.
“She is representing all the connections and all the work with lobbyists, with the automobile industries, with the war industries. She is also a representative for lobbyism, for capitalism,” one demonstrator said.