Sunday

19th Aug 2018

Trump-Putin 'chemistry' fizzles in Hamburg

  • Meeting between the US (r) and Russian leaders went on for more than two hours (Photo: kremlin.ru)

The “chemistry” between America’s Donald Trump and Russia’s Vladimir Putin, as well as violent street protests, stole the headlines of a G20 summit designed to forge agreement on global warming and free trade.

Trump spoke with Putin for two hours and 15 minutes, instead of 30 minutes as planned, on Russia’s meddling in the US election, on Ukraine, and on Syria.

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  • "Dissonance" as leaders tried to make Trump drop trade protectionism (Photo: kremlin.ru)

US secretary of state Rex Tillerson told press afterward they agreed to set up a “working group” of diplomats to “secure a commitment that the Russian government has no intention of and will not interfere in our affairs in the future, nor the affairs of others”.

They also agreed to create a ceasefire zone on Syria’s border with Jordan.

Tillerson said Trump had “pressed president Putin on more than one occasion regarding Russian involvement [in the US election]. President Putin denied such involvement”.

He said Putin had asked for “proof and evidence” of election meddling and that the two administrations were unlikely to “ever come to some agreed-upon resolution of that question”.

He added that the US-Russia relationship was “too important to not find a way to move forward” despite the disagreement.

He also said Trump and Putin had “positive chemistry” and that the meeting went on so long because there was “such a level of engagement and exchange, and neither one of them wanted to stop”.

Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, who was also in the room, gave a different account.

“President Trump said he heard clear statements by Russian president Vladimir Putin that this is not true and that the Russian leadership did not interfere in these elections. He said he accepted these statements. And that’s that,” Lavrov said.

Street violence

The first day of the meeting of the world’s 20 wealthiest countries was designed to focus on climate change and trade.

The summit, which ends on Saturday, will also discuss migration on its second day.

But violent anti-globalisation activists marred the event on Thursday and Friday, with black smoke billowing over Hamburg from burning cars as the leaders listened to Beethoven’s Ode to Joy, the EU anthem, and sat down for a gala dinner.

Most of the 100,000 or so protesters were peaceful, but Hamburg police made at least 70 arrests on Friday and said 160 officers had been injured.

They used water-cannons in the city centre and fired live ammunition in the air as a warning. They also said a flare had nearly hit one of their helicopters.

"I have every understanding for peaceful demonstrations but violent demonstrations put human lives in danger," German chancellor Angela Merkel said.

Merkel said Friday’s talks had failed to persuade the US to see eye-to-eye with the rest of the G19 on climate change and free trade.

Climate, trade

“The United States of America regrettably … wants to withdraw from the Paris accord,” on limiting global warming she said.

“I don’t want to beat around the bush, discussions [on trade] are very difficult,” she added.

“I can predict the sherpas are still facing a considerable amount of work tonight when it comes to [the section on] trade in the communique,” she said.

The G20 statement is expected to “take note” of Trump’s U-turn on Paris, but to add: “We remain collectively committed to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions … the Paris agreement is irreversible.”

Trump and Putin missed the climate talks on Friday due to their bilateral meeting, but they attended the trade discussion.

Maxim Oreshkin, a Russian spokesman, later told the Bloomberg news agency: “Nineteen countries were speaking about free trade and one country was highlighting that this country - United States - needs a reciprocal approach … So that was [a] kind of dissonance”.

French leader Emmanuel Macron, Japanese leader Shinzo Abe, and European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker tried to persuade Trump to change his protectionist stance.

Macron reportedly took out his phone and said it was made in the US with Chinese parts but sold in France to show Trump how global trade worked.

Abe’s spokesman, Norio Maruyama, said the Japanese leader had said “this rule [free and fair trade] needs to be maintained at the high level”.

Juncker reportedly told Trump that a recent EU-Japan pact would boost trade by €20 billion and ceate 250,000 jobs.

The leaders did agree a statement on counter-terrorism, which pledged to crack down on illicit financing and online radicalisation.

They also pledged to provide “effective and proportionate” aviation security and to guard against the “increasing challenge” of “low cost attacks by small cells and individuals.”

But they did not agree on a proposal by EU Council chairman Donal Tusk to impose UN-level travel bans and asset freezes on human smugglers in the Mediterranean, with China and Russia opposed to the move.

Awkward smiles

The event saw cameras capture awkward smiles and eye-rolling by Merkel in her chats with Trump and Putin.

It saw Trump’s wife, Melania, briefly trapped in her hotel by the riots, and later, Tillerson said, walking into the Trump-Putin meeting to tell them they were out of time.

The gala dinner saw her sit next to Putin while Trump sat next to Argentina’s first lady.

Merkel, the host, sat at the centre of the table, next to China’s Xi Jinping, and opposite Macron.

Merkel: Europe cannot rely on its allies anymore

The German chancellor said Europe must take its fate into its own hands in the era of Brexit and Trump, in a speech aimed at rallying support in Germany for her re-election.

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