President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin “had a very robust and lengthy exchange” about Russia’s alleged interference in the 2016 presidential election during their meeting Friday at the G20 summit, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told reporters.
Trump and Putin’s first official meeting was supposed to last only 30 minutes, but stretched on for nearly two hours and 20 minutes.
According to Politico, Tillerson said Putin denied that Russia had attempted to interfere in the election, while Trump “pressed” Putin on the subject.
The meeting in Hamburg, Germany, came as tensions between the two countries flared over the U.S. sanctions on Russia for its annexation of Crimea and the FBI investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election — including the country’s alleged collusion with the Trump campaign.
There was much interest in whether Trump would raise the latter subject in his meeting with Putin. Trump has been dismissive of the U.S. intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia meddled in the election, and said in Poland earlier this week that “nobody really knows for sure” whether Russia hacked U.S. election targets.
Earlier on Friday, Trump and Putin were cordial as they exchanged pleasantries and posed for photos ahead of their meeting.
Trump addressed the press first, saying, “President Putin and I have been discussing various things and I think it’s going very well. We’ve had some very, very good talks.”
“We’re going to have a talk now and obviously that will continue. But we look forward to a lot of very positive things happening for Russia, for the United States and for everybody concerned,” he continued.
“And,” he added to Putin, “it’s an honor to be with you.”
Putin responded that although he and Trump have spoken several times over the phone about “very important bilateral and international issues … a phone conversation is never enough.”
“If you want to have a positive outcome in bilaterals and be able to resolve most international policy issues, that will really need personal meetings,” he continued.
“I’m delighted to be able to meet you personally, Mr. President, and I hope as you said our meeting will yield positive results,” Putin added.
As Putin spoke, Trump looked directly at him and sat with his hands clasped. After their statements, the pool was ushered out and Trump and Putin shook hands.
Several reporters in the room asked Trump if he would raise Russia’s election meddling. He heard, but did not respond to the questions.
Norm Eisen, former President Obama’s ambassador to the Czech Republic, said on CNN of Trump and Putin’s initial exchange: “The thing that was missing in President Trump’s pleasantries … he didn’t confront; he only embraced. There is a series of enormous issues with Russia and … what I was listening for was a subtle undertone: ‘Of course we have some challenges to discuss.’ ”
Trump made no nod to any wrinkles in the relationship and, said Eisen, “ That is a disturbing omission to me.”
RELATED VIDEO: Exclusive: Natasha Stoynoff Speaks Out: ‘I Don’t Want Women to Feel Afraid’
Many people on Twitter commented on the extended length of the meeting and speculated about what the two leaders discussed.
Only four others attended Trump and Putin’s meeting: two translators and two top diplomats, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, CNN reported.
According to The New York Times, Russian officials wanted to include more people in the meeting but the Trump team “insisted the meeting be kept small to avoid leaks and competing accounts later.”