White House: Trump will not meet formally with Putin
President Trump will not have a “formal” meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Vietnam, the White House said Friday.
Sanders blamed “scheduling conflicts on both sides” but said it is likely the two leaders will have some informal interaction at the summit meeting.
“Regarding a Putin meeting, there was never a meeting confirmed, and there will not be one that takes place,” Sanders told reporters traveling with Trump. “There is no formal meeting or anything scheduled for them.”
It is common, however, for leaders to have brief, “pull-aside” conversations at international summits when no formal bilateral meeting is scheduled.
Sanders added: “Now, they’re going to be in the same place. Are they going to bump into each other and say hello? Certainly possible and likely.”
Her comments appeared to contradict the Kremlin, which said Thursday the “likelihood is great” for a one-on-one meeting.
Any Trump-Putin interaction will generate significant attention both at the summit and back in Washington.
It would come at a time when special counsel Robert Mueller has escalated his investigation into Moscow’s meddling in the 2016 election.
Just before the president left on his 13-day trip to Asia, Mueller filed charges against two former top Trump campaign officials and unsealed a guilty plea made by a third former campaign aide for lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russians.
Given the intense focus on Russia’s election interference, which the Kremlin denies, both sides have postured publicly ahead of a possible meeting.
Putin’s aides have assured such a meeting will happen and claimed it could yield productive results.
“It is obvious that it will be a good opportunity to exchange opinions on the most vital issues, both international and bilateral,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said this week.
Trump himself said before leaving the U.S. a sit-down is likely to take place, telling reporters, “I think it’s expected we’ll meet with Putin, yeah.”
But U.S. officials have stressed no meeting is set in stone and cast doubt on whether they would gain anything positive from an official meeting with Putin.
“If the two leaders are going to meet, is there something sufficiently substantive to talk about that would warrant a formal meeting?” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told reporters this week. “And so I would just say there’s been no conclusion made on that.”
Russia and the U.S. have long been on opposite sides of the Syrian civil war and in Ukraine, where Moscow has made several military interventions since 2014.
The Trump administration is also pressuring Russia to do more to confront North Korea and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
Trump and Putin previously met twice in July at the G20 summit in Germany.
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